Politics of South Africa

The Republic of South Africa is a unitary parliamentary democratic republic. The President of South Africa serves both as head of state and as head of government. The President is elected by the National Assembly (the lower house of the South African Parliament) and must retain the confidence of the Assembly in order to remain in office. South Africans also elect provincial legislatures which govern each of the country's nine provinces.

Politics of South Africa
Polity typeUnitary parliamentary republic with an executive presidency
ConstitutionConstitution of South Africa
Legislative branch
Meeting placeHouses of Parliament, Cape Town
Upper house
NameNational Council of Provinces
Presiding officerRefilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane, Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces
AppointerProvincial legislatures
Lower house
NameNational Assembly
Presiding officerThoko Didiza, Speaker of the National Assembly
AppointerNational Assembly
Executive branch
Head of State and Government
CurrentlyCyril Ramaphosa
AppointerNational Assembly
NameCabinet of South Africa
Current cabinetSecond Cabinet of Cyril Ramaphosa
Deputy leaderDeputy President
Judicial branch
NameJudiciary of South Africa
Constitutional Court
Chief judgeRaymond Zondo
Supreme Court of Appeal
Chief judgeXola Mpetse

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) has dominated South Africa's politics. The ANC is the ruling party in the national legislature, as well as in most provinces. The ANC received 40.18% of the vote during the 2024 general election. The main challenger to the ANC's rule is the Democratic Alliance (DA), led by John Steenhuisen, which received 21.81% of the vote in the 2024 election. Other major political parties represented in Parliament includes uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK Party), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The formerly dominant New National Party (NNP), which both introduced and ended apartheid through its predecessor the National Party (NP), disbanded in 2005 to merge with the ANC.

Nelson Mandela served as president from 1994 to 1999 and his successors were Thabo Mbeki (1999−2008), Kgalema Motlanthe (2008−2009) and Jacob Zuma (2009−2018). Zuma was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa after his resignation on February 2018. The 2024 general election was held on 29 May 2024, with the ANC losing its majority in the national parliament for the first time in South Africa's democratic history, though it still remained the largest political party.[1] Despite losing the majority in 2024, the ANC managed to retain power with a coalition government.[2]

South Africa is a democracy. Universal suffrage was granted in 1994 with the end of apartheid. Since then, elections have been open and competitive, and the lives of South Africans have improved across multiple metrics.[3] However, it has faced challenges as a multi-racial, young democracy.[3] The Economist Intelligence Unit rated South Africa a "flawed democracy" in 2022.[4][needs update]


The Prime Ministers of the British Dominions attending the 1926 Imperial Conference with King George V seated in the center.
Nelson Mandela was the first democratically elected President of South Africa.

On 31 May 1910, the Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Transvaal and the Orange River Colony were united in one state called the Union of South Africa. The Union of South Africa adopted a system of governance based on the political system of the United Kingdom. The British monarch was the ceremonial head of state of South Africa and was represented by a Governor-General. Real political power lay in the hands of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The basic ideas of this system such as a three branch government and strong Parliament remain in force today.

On 15 November 1926, the Balfour Declaration was adopted at the 1926 Imperial Conference. This document made the dominions of the British Empire including South Africa equal to each other and the United Kingdom. In practice, this made the Union of South Africa a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. The Union of South Africa became formally independent in 1931 when the Statute of Westminster was passed. It gave the Parliament of South Africa the power to make laws for South Africa without the approval of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

In 1948, the National Party of South Africa adopted a policy of institutional racial segregation called apartheid. People of colour, especially the majority black population, were deprived of the few rights they had. Racial classification and discrimination was used to distribute economic resources and control political power. The white population, particularly the Afrikaners, controlled the political system. Black people were disenfranchised in all provinces of South Africa.

In 1961, South Africa became a Republic. The British monarch was replaced as head of state by a President elected by the minority of the population through elected representatives. In 1970, the Homeland Citizens Act was passed. It built on the system of reservations for the indigenous black African population to create a system of superficially independent black countries. Many Black people were deprived of their South African citizenship and instead became citizens of the Bantustan of their tribe. They were not recognized by a majority of the world's countries and the extent of their independent control over internal affairs was highly limited.

The African National Congress (ANC) led the fight against this system of apartheid. After intense international pressure and domestic struggle, the De Klerk government repealed or relaxed many apartheid laws. After negotiations between the ANC, Inkatha Freedom Party, NP and other organizations, apartheid was formally abolished and the Interim Constitution was passed. The Bantustans were abolished and reintegrated into South Africa and their citizens regained South African citizenship.

The Government of National Unity (GNU) established under the interim constitution ostensibly remained in effect until the 1999 national elections. The parties originally comprising the GNU – the African National Congress (ANC), the National Party (NP), and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) – shared executive power. On 30 June 1996, the NP withdrew from the GNU to become part of the opposition.

Many of the principles of racial equality, majority democracy and minority rights that it established were translated into the final Constitution of South Africa that was adopted in 1996 and which remains in force. It sets out the structure of the government, protects fundamental human rights, creates mechanisms of accountability and divides legislative and executive power among the national, provincial and local spheres of government.


The Houses of Parliament in the legislative capital of Cape Town is the seat of the Parliament.
The Union Buildings in the administrative capital of Pretoria.
The seat of the Supreme Court of Appeals is located in the judicial capital of Bloemfontein.

South Africa is a parliamentary representative democratic republic, wherein the President of South Africa, elected by parliament, is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. It consists of three branches.

The executive branch consists of the President of South Africa and the Cabinet of South Africa. The President is elected by the Parliament of South Africa for a five-year term. The President may only serve two terms. By convention this position is occupied by the leader of the largest party in the National Assembly. The President appoints other members of the Cabinet called Ministers. Ministers oversee executive government departments. The Cabinet forms and executes policy and most legislative proposals originate from the Cabinet. The President and members of the Cabinet are accountable to the National Assembly. It has the power to remove them from office by passing a motion of no confidence and it has the power to hold them accountable through oral and written replies to questions from Members of Parliament.

The legislative branch consists of the Parliament. The Parliament consists of two chambers: the upper house is the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and the lower house is the National Assembly. In practice, the National Assembly is by far the more powerful house. It controls the composition of the government and its approval is required for most legislative proposals to become law. The NCOP provides equal representation to South Africa's nine provinces and its approval is required for laws that affect South Africa's provinces and cultural communities. Whereas the National Assembly is elected by party proportional representation, the NCOP is elected by the legislatures of each province.

The judicial branch consists of the courts. It interprets and enforces laws. The highest court for constitutional matters is the Constitutional Court of South Africa. It has the power to strike down laws that conflict with the Constitution. The Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest court for non-constitutional matters. The High Court of South Africa is a court of general jurisdiction with appellate powers. It is divided into divisions that have authority over a geographic region of the country. Magistrate Courts serve as courts of first instance. There are specialized courts and tribunals with power that can be equivalent to the Supreme Court of Appeals.


The Constitutional Court is seated in Johannesburg on Constitution Hill. It is the final arbiter of the constitution and its decisions are binding on all courts in the Republic

Following the 1994 elections, South Africa was governed under an interim constitution. This constitution required the Constituent Assembly (CA) to draft and approve a permanent constitution by 9 May 1996. The present constitution was passed in 1996 and promulgated by President Nelson Mandela in 1997. It is the highest law in the land; all other laws are expected to abide by and conform to the principles of the constitution. The Constitution not only sets out the structure of the three branches of government and the fundamental human rights of all of South Africa's people, but it provides for the management of public funding, the delineation of the boundaries and organization of Provinces, the formation of Chapter 9 Institutions to hold the government accountable.

Political parties and their current vote share


General elections take place every 5 years. The first fully non-racial democratic election was held in 1994. Subsequent elections were held in 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014, 2019, and 2024. Until 2008, elected officials were allowed to change political party, while retaining their seats, during set windows which occurred twice each electoral term, due to controversial floor crossing legislative amendments made in 2002. The last two-floor crossing windows occurred in 2005 and in 2007.

After the 2009 elections, the ANC lost its two-thirds majority in the national legislature which had allowed it to unilaterally alter the constitution.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are in a formal alliance with the ruling ANC (the so-called Tripartite Alliance), and thus do not stand separately for election.

During the 2024 general election, the ANC lost its majority in the national parliament for the first time in South Africa's democratic history, though it still remained the largest political party.[5]

PartyNational ballotRegional ballotTotal
African National Congress6,459,68340.18  17.32736,231,51939.4086159  71
Democratic Alliance3,505,73521.81  1.04423,439,27221.754587  3
uMkhonto weSizwe2,344,30914.58New312,237,87714.152758New
Economic Freedom Fighters1,529,9619.52  1.28171,556,9659.852239  5
Inkatha Freedom Party618,2073.85  0.478688,5704.35917  3
Patriotic Alliance330,4252.06  2.025345,8802.1949  9
Freedom Front Plus218,8501.36  1.024234,4771.4826  4
African Christian Democratic Party96,5750.60  0.24393,5810.5903  1
United Democratic Movement78,4480.49  0.04285,6180.5413  1
Rise Mzansi67,9750.42New170,1420.4412New
Build One South Africa65,9120.41New269,0200.4402New
African Transformation Movement63,5540.40  0.04266,8310.4202  0
Al Jama-ah39,0670.24  0.06253,3370.3402  1
National Coloured Congress37,4220.23New147,1780.3012New
Pan Africanist Congress of Azania36,7160.23  0.04140,7880.2601  0
United Africans Transformation35,6790.22New132,1850.2001New
Good29,5010.18  0.22136,1030.2301  1
Allied Movement for Change22,0550.14New018,3930.1200New
United Independent Movement20,0030.12New018,9070.1200New
African Independent Congress19,9000.12  0.1603,8330.0200  0
National Freedom Party19,3970.12  0.23022,7260.1400  2
Azanian People's Organisation19,0480.12  0.05018,7410.1200  2
African Congress for Transformation18,3540.11New03480.0000New
African Heart Congress16,3060.10New03,5790.0200New
Congress of the People14,1770.09  0.18016,7680.1100  2
African People's Convention13,1950.08  0.03014,6930.0900  0
Africa Restoration Alliance11,1080.07New012,6510.0800New
Forum for Service Delivery11,0770.07  0.0307,4440.0500  0
Democratic Liberal Congress10,9040.07  0.0107,0220.0400  0
Alliance of Citizens for Change9,3360.06New011,2170.0700New
Action Alliance Development Party [af]7,8020.05New04,6000.0300New
Conservatives in Action [af]7,4240.05New01,1150.0100New
South African Royal Kingdoms Organisation [af]6,6850.04New03,1950.0200New
Northern Cape Communities Movement [af]6,6290.04New07,0160.0400New
People's Movement for Change5,5390.03New07,0450.0400New
Abantu Batho Congress5,5310.03New03,5520.0200New
Economic Liberators Forum [af]5,4080.03New07,1150.0400New
Organic Humanity Movement5,2410.03New06,4570.0400New
African Content Movement5,1070.03  0.0004,6170.0300  0
Sizwe Ummah Nation5,0160.03New04,8690.0300New
South African Rainbow Alliance4,7960.03New07,6450.0500New
African People's Movement4,6010.03New04,2000.0300New
Able Leadership [af]3,8670.02New03,1610.0200New
Referendum Party3,8340.02New04,2060.0300New
All Citizens Party [af]3,6930.02New01,6440.0100New
Africa Africans Reclaim [af]3,3710.02New02,5650.0200New
Citizans [af]2,9920.02New04,0840.0300New
African Movement Congress [af]2,1410.01New01,5500.0100New
Free Democrats1,9920.01  0.0002,2760.0100  0
Zackie Achmat (Independent)10,5680.0700New
Valid votes16,076,71998.6915,814,66199.02
Invalid/blank votes213,4371.31156,8340.98
Total votes16,290,156100.0015,971,495100.00
Registered voters/turnout27,782,08158.6427,782,08157.49
Source: Electoral Commission of South Africa, IOL

Party Vote by region



Human rights


The constitution's bill of rights provides extensive guarantees, including equality before the law and prohibitions against discrimination; the right to life, privacy, property, and freedom and security of the person; prohibition against slavery and forced labour; and freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and association. The legal rights of criminal suspects also are enumerated. It also includes wide guarantees of access of food, water, education, health care, and social security. The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary, and, in practice, these provisions are respected.

Citizens' entitlements to a safe environment, housing, education, and health care are included in the bill of rights, and are known as secondary constitutional rights. In 2003 the constitutional secondary rights were used by the HIV/AIDS activist group the Treatment Action Campaign as a means of forcing the government to change its health policy.

Violent crime, including violence against women and children, and organised criminal activity are at high levels and are a grave concern. Partly as a result, vigilante action and mob justice sometimes occur.

Some members of the police are accused of applying excessive force and abusing suspects in custody; as a result, the number of deaths in police custody remains a problem. In April 1997, the government established an Independent Complaints Directorate to investigate deaths in police custody and deaths resulting from police action.

Some discrimination against women continues, although it has improved overall, and discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS has been becoming a serious issue.

There has been a growing political intolerance and repression, especially with regard to grassroots activists[6][7]

Notable politicians


Many leaders of former bantustans or homelands have had a role in South African politics since their abolition.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi was chief minister of his Kwa-Zulu homeland from 1976 until 1994. In post-apartheid South Africa he has served as President of the Inkatha Freedom Party. He was a Minister in President Mandela's cabinet. He also served as acting President of South Africa when President Nelson Mandela was overseas.

Bantubonke Holomisa, who was a general in the homeland of Transkei from 1987, has served as the president of the United Democratic Movement since 1997. Today he is a Member of Parliament.

General Constand Viljoen was a former chief of the South African Defence Force, who, as a leader of the Afrikaner Volksfront, sent 1500[8] of his militiamen to prop up the government of Lucas Mangope and to contest the termination of Bophuthatswana as a homeland in 1994. He co-founded the Freedom Front in 1994. He retired from being a Member of Parliament before his death in 2020.

Lucas Mangope, former[9] chief of the Motsweda Ba hurutshe-Boo-Manyane tribe of the Tswana, ex-president of the former bantustan of Bophuthatswana, was the leader of the United Christian Democratic Party.


  1. ^ "2024 ELECTIONS | eNCA Project ANC Will Take 45% Of National Vote". eNCA. 30 May 2024. Retrieved 30 May 2024.
  2. ^ Savage, Rachel (14 June 2024). "South Africa's ANC strikes coalition deal with free-market DA". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2024.
  3. ^ a b Lieberman, Evan (2022). Until We Have Won Our Liberty: South Africa after Apartheid. Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv244ssrw. ISBN 978-0-691-20300-3. JSTOR j.ctv244ssrw.
  4. ^ Democracy Index 2023: Age of Conflict (PDF). Economist Intelligence Unit (Report). 2024. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 June 2024. Retrieved 22 July 2024.
  5. ^ "IEC election results home - Electoral Commission of South Africa". results.elections.org.za.
  6. ^ Political tolerance on the wane in South Africa, Imraan Buccus, University of KwaZulu-Natal, SA Reconciliation Barometer, 2011
  7. ^ ‘The Politic of Blood’: Political Repression in South Africa, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Dossier 31, August 2020
  8. ^ Waldmeir, Patti (1998). Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of the New South Africa. Rutgers University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-8135-2582-2.
  9. ^ "Mangope, Lucas Manyane - The O'Malley Archives". www.nelsonmandela.org. Retrieved 11 September 2016.



Further reading

  • Habib, Adam (2013). South Africa's suspended revolution - Hopes and prospects. Wits University Press. ISBN 978-1-86814-608-6.
  • Plaut, Martin; Holden, Paul (2012). Who Rules South Africa?. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 978-1849544085.
  • Thuynsma, Heather, ed. (2017). Political Parties in South Africa - Do They Undermine or Underpin Democracy?. Africa Institute of South Africa. ISBN 978-0-7983-0514-3.