Friday, 1 July 2022 – 14:10

Explaining Politics in South Africa

South Africa, officially known as the Republic of South Africa (RSA) is a country on the southernmost tip of the African continent and is home to around 57 million people.

The Republic of South Africa is a parliamentary representative democracy – this means that officials are elected to represent a group of people. The country is known as a republic, which means that the country is considered a ‘public matter’ and that the head of state cannot be a monarch (such as a king, queen or emperor).


{tab Political Makeup of South Africa}

Since 1996, the country has been governed by a permanent constitution.

The constitution rules that the President is both head of state and head of the Government. 

The Parliament of South Africa is made up of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.

  • The National Assembly is the lower house of the Parliament located in Cape Town, and consists of 400 members. Members are elected through a party-list proportional representation system. Under the system, half of the members are elected from 9 provincial lists and the remaining half from national lists. Provincial lists are lists of candidates from different provinces – regional areas with some administrative power within a country. 
  • The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) is the upper house of the Parliament and is also located in Cape town. The Council has the purpose of representing the different provinces, rather than directly representing the people. Each government of a province has a legislature (law-making body), and the public elects provincial legislatures in general elections. The NCOP is made up of 90 delegates (a person sent to represent others) – 10 for each province and these delegates are selected by the provincial legislatures. A provincial legislature can best be described as a form of regional government.

General elections take place in the Republic of South Africa every 5 years – this is where voters get the chance to elect officials to represent them in the National Assembly of South Africa, and elect the provincial legislatures. 

The Parliament of South Africa has only been governed by its current constitution since 1997. The elections in South Africa in 1994 were the first in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part and therefore the first election held in the country with universal adult suffrage. This change to elections came after negotiations to end the apartheid system in South Africa – ‘a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s.


{tab What Are The Provinces Of South Africa?}

There are 9 provinces in South Africa. Each province is largely different in environment and population. Each province sends delegates to the National Council of Provinces. The provinces are as follows;

Image Credit: Map of South Africa with English labels by Htonl licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

  • The Eastern Cape
  • The Free State
  • Gauteng
  • KwaZulu-Natal
  • Limpopo
  • Mpumalanga
  • The Northern Cape
  • North West
  • The Western Cape








{tab A Brief History of South African Politics}

  • The Union of South Africa was created in 1910 when South Africa became independent from Great Britain.
  • In 1912, the African National Congress (ANC) was founded, particularly to protest the exclusion of black people from power. 
  • In 1921, the South African Communist Party was established. 
  • In 1948, the pro-Afrikaner National Party (NP) came to power with the ‘ideology of apartheid’ – a racial segregation policy.
  • In 1961, the Government declared South Africa a Republic.
  • New concerns over racial purity saw residential segregation of the races. Years of protests resulted in limited reforms made by the government in 1980, and apartheid was ended through negotiations in the early 1990s.
  • South Africa held its first democratic election in 1994 under an interim constitution, electing Nelson Mandela. A permanent constitution was later agreed in 1997.
  • Jacob Zuma was inaugurated as President of South Africa in 2009.
  • In 2010, the country hosted the FIFA World Cup.
  • Nelson Mandela, who campaigned against the apartheid ideology, and was also the country’s first democratically elected president, died in 2013.


{tab South African Politics In Recent Times}

The largest political party in South Africa is the African National Congress. In the 2019 elections, the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters parties gained the second and third highest number of votes respectively. The current President of South Africa is Cyril Ramaphosa, entering the role in 2018. The President has influence over foreign and security policy as commander-in-chief of the South African National Defence Force – the President is also the head of state and head of the Government.




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