Complex Governance In South Africa Explained With Simplicity

South Africa is a constitutional democracy with a three-level system of government, an independent judiciary, and a Constitution – the highest law of the land – recognised as one of the most progressive in the world.

Sections in this article:

  • The Constitution
  • Three levels and three spheres of government
  • Parliament: the National Assembly
  • Parliament: the National Council of Provinces
  • The Presidency and the Cabinet
  • Provincial government
  • Local government
  • Traditional leaders
  • State institutions to support democracy
  • Law-making
  • The National Development Plan

Each of the three levels of government – national, provincial and local – is “distinctive”. They each have their own legislative and executive authority. This is laid down in the Constitution.

But they are still “interdependent and interrelated”. The key here is “cooperative governance” – the title of Chapter 3 of the Constitution.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa

A sculpture outside South Africa's Constitutional Court on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. The court has a unique collection of artworks, curated by retired judge Albie Sachs. (Image: South African Tourism)

South Africa’s Constitution is internationally celebrated for its protection of human rights.

The Bill of Rights – chapter 2 of the Constitution – ensures that a broad range of rights are protected. These rights include equality and human dignity, as well as freedom of religion, of expression, of sexual orientation and more. It even protects social rights – the right to housing, food and water, and the protection of the poor.

The Constitutional Court is the final court of appeal. All laws passed by the government, and every action the government takes, have to agree with the principles of human rights and democracy laid down in South Africa’s Constitution.

Three levels and three spheres of government

In Pretoria, a statue of Nelson Mandela stands outside the Union Buildings, the seat of South Africa's government administration. (Image: South African Tourism)

South Africa has three levels of government: national, provincial and local (municipal).

National government itself is divided into three separate spheres:

  • Law-making, or legislative authority
  • The actual work of governing, or executive authority
  • The courts, or judicial authority

South Africa’s three capital cities reflect this:

  • The executive capital is Pretoria, where the Union Buildings house the seat of government and the offices of the president.
  • The judicial capital is Bloemfontein, home of the Supreme Court of Appeal.
  • The legislative capital is Cape Town, where the Houses of Parliament draft, vote and pass the laws of the country.

There are two houses of Parliament:

  • The National Assembly creates laws for South Africa as a whole.
  • The National Council of Provinces ensures that these laws will meet the different needs of each province.

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