In February 1990 South Africa’s white minority government lifted the ban on anti-apartheid political organizations and freed African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. The government and the black liberation movement, led primarily by the ANC, then entered into negotiations to dismantle apartheid and open the way to political democracy in South Africa.
In 1993 the two sides agreed to hold the first multiracial elections in South Africa’s history in April 1994. A Transitional Executive Council was formed to supervise the elections, which would put in place new national and provincial governments. After difficult negotiations amid rising violence, much of it politically linked, an interim constitution was approved to serve as the country’s law until a permanent one could be written and adopted by the new parliament. The negotiators agreed that the new government would be one of “national unity”, in which minority parties with at least 5 per cent of the vote would be represented. However, the minority parties would not be able to exercise veto power over the decisions of the majority governing party.
Executive and Legislative
The President is the Head of State and leads the Cabinet. He or she is elected by the National Assembly from among its members, and leads the country in the interest of national unity, in accordance with the Constitution and the law.
The Deputy President
The President appoints the Deputy President from among the members of the National Assembly. The Deputy president assists the President in executing government functions.
Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa at the first session of the new parliament in 1994. Any party that won 80 or more seats in the elections earned the right to appoint a deputy president. Thabo Mbeki of the ANC was selected First Deputy President, and former president F. W. de Klerk of the former ruling party, the National Party, was named Second Deputy President. Under the terms of the interim constitution, the president has ultimate authority in governing the country, but he must consult the deputy presidents before making decisions. Cabinet posts were allocated on the basis of the number of seats political parties hold in the parliament. The ANC was given 18 posts; the National Party, 6; and the Inkatha Freedom Party, 3.
South Africa’s new parliament is composed of two chambers—a 400-member National Assembly and a 90-member Senate. Seats in the National Assembly were awarded on the basis of the percentage of the vote received by political parties in the April 1994 elections. Each party gained four seats for each percentage of the vote it won. In the event the ANC gained 62.6 per cent of the vote, and control of seven of the nine provincial legislatures. The National Party, which had dominated government under the apartheid era, was the next largest party, followed by the Inkatha Freedom Party (Zulu) of Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi. Members of the Senate were elected by the provincial assemblies. Each of the nine provincial assemblies chose ten senators.
The key task of the new parliament was to write and adopt a new constitution, which had to win the support of at least 67 per cent of the members of parliament to take effect. Parliament members held office until June 1999, when the first elections under the new constitution took place. On May 8, 1996, the Constitutional Assembly voted to pass a new constitution, which, after certification by the Constitutional Court, was enacted and established in time for the national elections of 1999.
The major political parties of South Africa are the ANC, founded in 1912; the Democratic Alliance, founded in 2000 as a result of a merger between the New National Party (NNP; known until 1998 as the National Party) and the Democratic Party; the Inkatha Freedom Party, founded in 1975; the Pan-African Congress, founded in 1959; the South African Communist Party, founded in 1921; and the Conservative Party, founded in 1982. In 2001 the NNP left the Democratic Alliance.
The ANC, the oldest liberation movement in Africa, won a clear majority in South Africa’s first free and democratic elections in April 1994. After the ban upon it operating in South Africa was lifted in February 1990, and most of its leaders freed from long imprisonment, it grew rapidly and made major gains in attracting non-blacks to its membership. It counted on the support of the South African Communist Party in the 1994 elections.
The National Party was the second-place winner in the elections. It was the ruling party from 1948 to 1994 and was responsible for instituting the apartheid system. During the 1994 elections, based on de Klerk’s crucial role in the negotiations bringing a peaceful end to apartheid, the National Party sought to portray itself as a party of reform and a friend of non-European voters. The Inkatha Freedom Party, which threatened to boycott the elections until a week before they were held, is the major opponent of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal Province.
A new Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, was created under the interim constitution. The Constitutional Court consists of a president and ten judges, all of whom were selected by the Cabinet from a list compiled by an independent nominating commission. The Constitutional Court determines the constitutionality of all laws.
Representation in the nine provincial assemblies is also based on the percentage of the vote won by political parties in the elections. The number of votes cast in each province determined the number of seats in each assembly. Thus, more densely populated provinces have larger assemblies than do those with fewer residents. Each province is headed by a premier, who is elected by the assembly. The premier presides over an executive council of ten members. The provincial legislatures have significant powers and responsibilities, including the writing of provincial constitutions. However, they are ultimately under the authority of the national parliament and the constitution. Elections at the end of 1994 decided the composition of city and town councils.