The politics and government of South Africa
South Africa is a democratic state with a government based on a constitution. The government consists of three arms, namely the judiciary, the legislature and the executive, and operates at three levels, namely national, provincial, and local (or municipal). The three levels of government are in constant contact with one another and are interdependent in their operation. There are also entities composed of traditional tribal leaders, who have a limited say in government.
The National Assembly
The National Assembly is the name of the highest legislative body in South Africa. Every year, the Assembly meets in Parliament in Cape Town to review proposed legislation and conduct committee discussions on the latter. The National Assembly is legally required to act within the scope of the constitution. The Assembly consists of up to 400 members or “seats”, based on a system of proportional representation in an election. Each political party therefore has a number of members based on how many votes it won in the national election. The ANC usually has in excess of 250 seats.
In addition to the Assembly, there is also the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), which is there to ensure that legislation affecting provinces is properly reviewed by provincial government.
The president is elected by the members of the National Assembly from among their own ranks. The president serves a term of five years, at the end of which a national election is held. The president may serve a maximum of two terms in office.
There are two situations in which a sitting president may be removed from office. The first is in the case of a serious violation of the constitution. The second is at the behest of the National Assembly, who need to achieve a two-thirds majority on the issue.
The Cabinet comprises the president, the deputy president, and 25 ministers. A maximum of two of the 25 ministers may be selected from outside of the National Assembly. The President selects the ministers and the deputy president, and decides on what portfolios they will have. The president may also “re-shuffle” his cabinet at any time, removing or adding ministers as he sees fit.
Only a cabinet minister, a deputy minister, or a member of a subsidiary committee of the National Assembly may introduce a bill (proposed law) in parliament. In the NCOP, the requirements for admitting proposed legislation are even stricter.
Any bill tabled in the National Assembly must be admitted to the NCOP for examination. It is up to the NCOP to pass or reject a bill, or propose amendments. The National Assembly is obliged to consider any such amendments or rejection.
In cases where the bill is of national importance, such as bills on justice, defence or foreign affairs, each NCOP member has one vote on the bill. However, when the bill affects provincial matters, each of the nine provinces has one vote, so that matters of provincial importance receive due attention, and also so that the provinces are in agreement on legislation affecting their government.
The National Assembly may contradict a decision of the NCOP if a two-thirds majority can be attained in the Assembly on a particular issue.
In order to amend the constitution, the proposed amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote in the National Assembly and the support of six of the nine provinces in the NCOP. However, in order to amend Section 1 of the Constitution, a three quarters majority is required in the National Assembly, as Section 1 sets out the founding values of the state.
The following state institutions have been created in support of constitutional democracy.
- The Public Protector
- The Electoral Commission
- The Commission for Gender Equality
- The Human Rights Commission
- The Auditor-General