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World > Africa > South Africa > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

South Africa - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared between the president and the Parliament.

The Parliament consists of two houses, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, which are responsible for drafting the laws of the republic. The National Assembly also has specific control over bills relating to monetary matters. The current 400-member National Assembly was retained under the 1997 constitution, although the constitution allows for a range of between 350 and 400 members. The Assembly is elected by a system of 'list proportional representation.' Each of the parties appearing on the ballot submits a rank-ordered list of candidates. The voters then cast their ballots for a party.

Seats in the Assembly are allocated based on the percentage of votes each party receives. In the 2004 elections, the ANC won 279 seats in the Assembly, more than a two-thirds majority and an increase of 13 seats from 1999; the Democratic Alliance (DA) won 50, the IFP 28, the New National Party (NNP) 7, the United Democratic Movement (UDM) 9, and other groups won the remaining 27. In the 2004 electoral campaign, the ANC aligned with the NNP, and the DA aligned with the IFP. On August 6, the NNP announced that it would merge with the ANC. Elected representatives of the party would, however, continue to hold their seats in the national and provincial legislatures as NNP members until the next floor-crossing period in September 2005.

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) consists of 90 members, 10 from each of the nine provinces. The NCOP replaced the former Senate as the second chamber of Parliament and was created to give a greater voice to provincial interests. It must approve legislation that involves shared national and provincial competencies as defined by an annex to the constitution. Each provincial delegation consists of six permanent and four rotating delegates.

The president is the head of state. Following the April 14, 2004 elections, the National Assembly reelected Thabo Mbeki as President. The president's constitutional responsibilities include assigning cabinet portfolios, signing bills into law, and serving as commander in chief of the military. The president works closely with the deputy president and the cabinet. There are currently 28 posts in the cabinet. Of the 28 ministers, Mbeki appointed two from outside the ANC--one from the former NNP and one from the Azanian Peoples Organization (Azapo). On June 14, 2005, President Mbeki informed the South African Parliament that then-Deputy President Jacob Zuma was being 'released' from his duties following the conviction of a close associate on corruption charges relating to monetary payments to Zuma. On June 22, Mbeki named former Minister for Minerals and Energy Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to the position of Deputy President, the first woman to hold this office.

The third arm of the central government is an independent judiciary. The Constitutional Court is the highest court for interpreting and deciding constitutional issues, while the Supreme Court of Appeal is the highest court for nonconstitutional matters. Most cases are heard in the extensive system of High Courts and Magistrates Courts. The constitution's bill of rights provides for due process including the right to a fair, public trial within a reasonable time of being charged and the right to appeal to a higher court. The bill of rights also guarantees fundamental political and social rights of South Africa's citizens.

Challenges Ahead
South Africa?s post-apartheid governments have made remarkable progress in consolidating the nation's peaceful transition to democracy. Programs to improve the delivery of essential social services to the majority of the population are underway. Access to better opportunities in education and business is becoming more widespread. Nevertheless, transforming South Africa's society to remove the legacy of apartheid will be a long-term process requiring the sustained commitment of the leaders and people of the nation's disparate groups.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), chaired by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, helped to advance the reconciliation process. Constituted in 1996 and having completed its work by 2001, the TRC was empowered to investigate apartheid-era human rights abuses committed between 1960 and May 10, 1994; to grant amnesty to those who committed politically motivated crimes; and to recommend compensation to victims of abuses. In November 2003, the Government began allocation of $4,600 (R30,000) reparations to individual apartheid victims. The TRC's mandate was part of the larger process of reconciling the often conflicting political, economic, and cultural interests held by the many peoples that make up South Africa's diverse population. The ability of the government and people to agree on many basic questions of how to order the country's new society will remain a critical challenge.

One important issue continues to be the relationship of provincial and local administrative structures to the national government. Prior to April 27, 1994, South Africa was divided into four provinces and 10 black 'homelands,' four of which were considered independent by the South African Government. Both the interim constitution and the 1997 constitution abolished this system and substituted nine provinces. Each province has an elected legislature and chief executive--the provincial premier. Although in form a federal system, in practice the nature of the relationship between the central and provincial governments continues to be the subject of considerable debate, particularly among groups desiring a greater measure of autonomy from the central government. A key step in defining the relationship came in 1997 when provincial governments were given more than half of central government funding and permitted to develop and manage their own budgets. However, the national government exerts a measure of control over provinces by appointing provincial premiers.

Although South Africa's economy is in many areas highly developed, the exclusionary nature of apartheid and distortions caused in part by the country's international isolation until the 1990s have left major weaknesses. The economy is now in a process of transition as the government seeks to address the inequities of apartheid, stimulate growth, and create jobs. Business, meanwhile, is becoming more integrated into the international system, and foreign investment has increased dramatically over the past several years. Still, the economic disparities between population groups are expected to persist for many years, remaining an area of priority attention for the government.

Human Rights
The 1997 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 labor; and freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and association. The legal rights of criminal suspects also are enumerated, as are citizens' entitlements to a safe environment, housing, education, and health care. The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary, and, in practice, these provisions are respected.

Since the abolition of apartheid, levels of political violence in South Africa have dropped dramatically. Violent crime and organized 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 commit abuses, and deaths in police custody as a result of excessive force remain a problem. The government has taken action to investigate and punish some of those who commit such abuses. In April 1997, the government established an Independent Complaints Directorate to investigate deaths in police custody and deaths resulting from police action.

Although South Africa's society is undergoing a rapid transformation, some discrimination against women continues, and discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS remains. Violence against women and children also is a serious problem.

Principal Government Officials
State President--Thabo Mbeki
Executive Deputy President--Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Ministers
Agriculture & Land Affairs--Ms. Lulana Xingwana
Arts & Culture--Mr. Pallo Jordan
Communications--Dr. Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri
Correctional Services--Mr. Ngconde Balfour
Defense--Mr. Mosiuoa Lekota
Education--Ms. Naledi Pandor
Environmental Affairs & Tourism--Mr. Marthinus van Schalkwyk
Finance--Mr. Trevor Manuel
Foreign Affairs--Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
Health--Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
Home Affairs--Ms. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula
Housing--Ms. Lindiwe Sisulu
Intelligence--Mr. Ronnie Kasrils
Justice & Constitutional Development--Ms. Bridgette Mabandla
Labor--Mr. Membathisi Mdladlana
Minerals & Energy--Ms. Buyi Sonjica
Provincial & Local Government--Mr. Sydney Mufamadi
Public Enterprises--Mr. Alec Erwin
Public Service & Administration--Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi
Public Works--Ms. Angela Thoko Didiza
Safety & Security--Mr. Charles Nqakula
Science & Technology--Mr. Mosibudi Mangena
Social Development--Dr. Zola Skweyiya
Sport & Recreation--Mr. Makhenkesi Stofile
The Presidency--Dr. Essop Pahad
Trade & Industry--Mr. Mandisi Mpahlwa
Transport--Mr. Jeff Radebe
Water Affairs & Forestry--Ms. Lindiwe Hendricks

The Republic of South Africa maintains an embassy in the United States at 3051 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel. (202) 232-4400.


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - South African Rand Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



Facts at a Glance
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Climate
Current Time
Ranking Positions
South African Rand Exchange Rates


Notes and Commentary
People
Economy
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





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