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Coat of arms

The government of the Republic of South Africa exists within the framework of a unitary parliamentary republic where Parliament reigns supreme and the State President is the head of state and head of government. The Republic has a judiciary consisting mainly of the Supreme Court - which consists of a highest Appellate Division and several Provincial and Local Divisions. The judiciary and executive are entirely subordinate to Parliament, however it is commonly alleged that the State President dominates the South African political scene.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act (78 of 1995), known commonly as the "1995 Constitution Act" or "the Constitution", has the status of any other ordinary legislation and can be amended by a simple majority of Parliament, however it does determine structure of the South African state. South Africa therefore does not follow the doctrines of separation of powers or judicial review to the extent that they are followed in nations with constitutional supremacy.

The seat of government is located in Pretoria, in the Transvaal Province. The State President's seat is in the Union Buildings; Parliament is located in Parliament House and the Supreme Court is located in the Palace of Justice. Prior to 1994, South Africa had three constitutionally recognized capital cities (since 1909) - Pretoria, the executive capital; Cape Town, the legislative capital; and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital. This was due to a compromise between the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic at the founding of the erstwhile Union of South Africa. The 1995 Constitution Act specifically consolidated the entire central government in Pretoria.

Being a unitary state, provincial and local government are entirely responsible and accountable to the central government in the capital Pretoria. Every province (Transvaal, Cape, Natal, Orange Free State and South West Africa) has as its head of government an official known as the Administrator. He is supported by an Executive Council, which is in essence his cabinet. The Administrator is chosen by the State President, and the Executive Council is nominated by the Administrator, to be confirmed by the State President. The Administrator has the authority to adopt provincial legislation (known as Ordinances), which are only of application to that province. The Administrator and Executive Council are collectively known as "the Administration", which is synonymous with "provincial government".

Local government in South Africa is a complex system and has been continuously reformed throughout the country's history. As it stands currently, every province is divided into three separate forms of "local authorities" - one for whites, one for coloreds, and one for Indians. These authorities are complex and overlap in several different ways. The majority of colored local authorities are located in the Cape Province, and the majority of Indian local authorities are located in Natal. The rest of the country mostly consists of white local authorities. Black local authorities in the form of tribal chiefs and headmen are also still recognized to a very limited extent, however the central government has over the last two decades committed itself to having all black residents (South Africa has no black citizens) relocated to live within their respective independent homelands. Local authorities are responsible chiefly to the provincial Administrator.

Parliament (legislative branch)

Main article: Multicameral Parliament

The Parliament of South Africa (Afrikaans: Parlement van Suid-Afrika) is the sovereign legislature of the country, making it the source of sovereignty as well as (officially) the highest and most powerful organ of state. Both the executive and judiciary are bound absolutely to the decisions and enactments of Parliament.

It is known internationally for its unique multicameral composition. Authors and analysts from around the world as well as in South Africa have therefore come to refer to it as the Multicameral Parliament. Parliament is made up of four houses - the House of Assembly (200 members), which is constituted from the votes of the white electorate; the House of Representatives (60 members), which is constituted from the votes of the colored electorate; and the House of Delegates (30 members), which is constituted from the votes of the Indian (subcontinental) electorate. The fourth house is known as the President's Council, which consists of 50 members - half appointed by the State President, and the other half chosen by the other houses from South African civil society.

Each racial house is responsible for the "own affairs" of its respective population group. Own affairs, among other things, usually consists of welfare, education and local government. The Parliament as a whole is collectively responsible for "general affairs", which includes national defense, foreign policy and agriculture. The House of Assembly is the dominant house of Parliament as it consists of the majority of members, and can pass any general affairs measure if a majority of its own members vote affirmatively.

The white Conservative Party (CP) is currently the majority party in the House of Assembly, with 119 seats. The Progressive Party (PP) is the official opposition with 56 seats. The New National Party (NNP) comes in third with 23 seats. The final two seats are occupied by independents.

The colored Labor Party (LP) is currently the majority party in the House of Representatives, with 49 seats. The Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) is the official opposition and occupies the remaining 11 seats.

The (Indian) United Solidarity Movement (USM) is currently the majority party in the House of Delegates, with 16 seats. The Natal People's Party (NPP) is the official opposition with 6 seats. The remaining 8 seats are occupied by independents.

The President's Council is a generally advisory council for the State President, however serves some legislative function. The Council solves disputes between the racial houses when they may arise. Half of the Council is appointed by the State President, and the other half is chosen by the other houses of Parliament. The State President usually appoints his cabinet from the Council, however is not obliged to do so. The State President and Vice State President are ex officio in the President's Council. Whereas members of the other houses are known as MPs (Members of Parliament), members of the Council are known as MPCs (Members of the President's Council), further making it a unique component of a legislature.

Although the President's Council is officially considered nonpartisan, the party membership distribution of its members are as follows - 33 white CP members, 8 white PP members, 1 white independent, 4 colored LP members, 2 Indian USM members and 2 Indian independents.

Physically, Parliament is located in Pretoria, Transvaal, at Parliament House. Parliament used to be located in Cape Town since 1909 however was moved to Pretoria with the commencement of the 1995 Constitution Act. Each house of Parliament has its own chamber and when Parliament sits together they do so in the House of Assembly's chamber, which is the largest. The President's Council has a room at Parliament House however is permanently situated at the Union Buildings (the seat of the executive), to fulfill its advisory role to the State President.

Prior to 1994, the Parliament was known as the Tricameral Parliament.

State President (executive branch)

Main article: State President of South Africa


  • State President: J.D. Grobler
  • Vice State President: Leon Smit
  • Secretary of Security: S.C. Vermeulen MPC
  • Minister of Defense: Harry Raath MPC
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs: Pieter De Clercq MPC
  • Minister of Finance: Naveen Kadam MPC
  • Minister of the Interior: Gerhard Reinders MPC
  • Minister of Infrastructure and Public Works: Robert Maas MPC
  • Minister of Agriculture, Land and Water: Jakobus de Villiers MPC
  • Minister of Environmental Affairs: Tertius Venter
  • Permanent Representative to the United Nations: Johannes Fortuin
  • Ministers of Local Government
    • James Fourie MPC (white)
    • Richard Petersen MPC (colored)
    • Yusuf Meer MPC (Indian)
  • Ministers of Education and Culture
    • Martin la Grange MPC (white)
    • Curtis Johnson-Davids (colored)
    • Peter Govender (Indian)
  • Ministers of Health and Social Development
    • John Janse van Rensburg MPC (white)
    • Trevor Engelbrecht (colored)
    • Ebrahim Naidoo (Indian)
  • Ministers of Tourism
    • Reinhard du Toit (white)
    • Charl Arendse (colored)
    • James Tandree (Indian)
  • Ministers of Sport
    • Alexander Burger (white)
    • Adam Matthews (colored)
    • Neeraj Mangat (Indian)

Supreme Court (judicial branch)

Main article: Supreme Court of South Africa

Although several other courts exist throughout the country, the Supreme Court of South Africa (Afrikaans: Hooggeregshof van Suid-Afrika) is officially the general trial court as well as last court of appeal. The term "Supreme Court" encompasses three divisions - the Appellate Division (the highest court), the Provincial Divisions and the Local Divisions. The Chief Justice (who is nominated by the State President and confirmed by Parliament) sits on the Appellate Division with 8 other Judges of Appeal. Each Provincial Division is led by a Judge President. Local Divisions serve to lessen the load of cases on the Provincial Divisions. They have the same non-territorial jurisdiction as the Provincial Divisions, however Provincial Divisions still set a higher legal precedent.

The courts are considered to be the weakest branch of government. They have no judicial review powers over legislation passed by Parliament (except in the case when legislation was passed in an incorrect manner) and have limited oversight over the executive. The courts therefore primarily serve to interpret the law as passed by Parliament and to adjudicate civil and criminal disputes. The Supreme Court is headquartered in Pretoria at the Palace of Justice. It was formerly located in Bloemfontein since 1909, however the 1995 Constitution Act moved it to Pretoria.

Other courts throughout the country besides the Supreme Court include the Commissioners' Courts, the (black) Divorce Courts and the Small Claims Courts.

The current Chief Justice is Charles Henry Maxwell, an English South African.

The various provincial and local divisions are:

  • Transvaal Province
    • Transvaal Provincial Division (Pretoria)
    • Witwatersrand Local Division (Johannesburg)
  • Cape Province
    • Cape of Good Hope Provincial Division (Cape Town)
    • Eastern Cape Provincial Division (Grahamstown)
    • Northern Cape Provincial Division (Kimberley)
    • South Eastern Cape Local Division (Port Elizabeth)
  • Natal Province
    • Natal Provincial Division (Pietermaritzburg)
    • Durban and Coast Local Division (Durban)
  • Orange Free State Province
    • Orange Free State Provincial Division (Bloemfontein)
  • South West Africa Province
    • South West Africa Provincial Division (Windhoek)
    • Walvis Bay Local Division (Wavis Bay)

Provincial and local government

See also