South Africa Government
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South Africa Geography
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South Africa History
South Africa People
South Africa Geography
South Africa Economy
South Africa History
Type: Executive--president; bicameral Parliament.
Independence: The Union of South Africa was created on May 31, 1910; became sovereign state within British Empire in 1934; became a Republic on May 31, 1961; left the Commonwealth in October 1968.
Constitution: Nonracial, democratic constitution came into effect April 27, 1994; rejoined the Commonwealth in May 1994.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state) elected to a 5-year term by the National Assembly. Legislative--bicameral Parliament consisting of 490 members in two chambers. National Assembly (400 members) elected by a system of proportional representation. National Council of Provinces consisting of 90 delegates (10 from each province) and 10 nonvoting delegates representing local government. Judicial--Constitutional Court interprets and decides constitutional issues; Supreme Court of Appeal is the highest court for interpreting and deciding nonconstitutional matters.
Administrative subdivisions: Nine provinces: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape, Limpopo, Western Cape. Political parties: African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Party (DP), New National Party (NNP), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Vryheidsfront/Freedom Front (FF), Pan-African Congress (PAC), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), United Democratic Movement (UDM), and the Federal Alliance.
Suffrage--Citizens and permanent residents 18 and older.
Government of South Africa
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 May 9, 1996. After review by the Constitutional Court and intensive negotiations within the CA, a revised draft was certified by the Constitutional Court on December 2, 1996. President Mandela signed the new constitution into law on December 10, and it entered into force on February 3, 1997.
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 ANC, the NP, and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)--shared executive power. On June 30, 1996, the NP withdrew from the GNU to become part of the opposition.
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 new 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 one party.
Seats in the Assembly are allocated based on the percentage of votes each party receives. In the 1999 elections, the ANC won 266 seats in the Assembly, one seat shy of a two-thirds majority and an increase of 14 seats from 1994; the DP won 38, the IFP 34, the NNP 28, the UDM 14, and other groups won the remaining 20. In 2000, the DP, NNP, and the Federal Alliance merged to form the Democratic Alliance. In late 2001, the NNP withdrew from the DA and entered into an agreement again with the ANC, although final details regarding any cabinet-level positions or powersharing in provinces/municipalities are still to be worked out as of April 2002.
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 June 2, 1999 elections, the National Assembly elected Thabo Mbeki president. The president's responsibilities include assigning cabinet portfolios, signing bills into law, and serving as commander in chief of the military. The president must work closely with the deputy president and the cabinet. There are currently 28 posts in the cabinet, 25 of which are held by the ANC and three by the IFP.
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.
The post-apartheid Government of South Africa 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 Prizewinner 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. 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 new 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.
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.
The new 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 is becoming serious. Violence against women and children also is a serious problem.