Executive and Legislative Authority

South Africa Table of Contents

The President

Under the interim constitution, executive authority is vested in the president, deputy presidents, and a cabinet chosen by the president in consultation with party leaders (see fig. 19). The executive offices are based in the administrative capital, Pretoria. The directly elected National Assembly elects the president from among its members and can remove the president from office by a vote of no-confidence or by impeachment. The president's primary responsibilities are to uphold, to defend, and to respect the constitution; to appoint cabinet members; to convene cabinet meetings; to refer bills back to the legislators or forward them to the Constitutional Court when constitutionality is in question; to summon the National Assembly for urgent matters; to appoint commissions of inquiry; to appoint ambassadors; and to accredit foreign diplomats.

According to the interim constitution, any party winning more than 20 percent of the popular vote is entitled to name a deputy president. If only one party or no party wins that percentage of votes, each of the two parties with the largest numbers of votes selects a deputy president. The deputy presidents' primary responsibilities are to assist the president in the duties of the executive and to succeed the president in the event of absence, incapacitation, or vacancy in that office. In 1994 the NP named outgoing president F. W. de Klerk and the ANC named Thabo Mbeki to serve as deputy presidents.

The Cabinet

The cabinet shares executive authority with the president and his deputies, and its members are appointed by the president in consultation with party leaders. Under the interim constitution, cabinet appointments reflect the relative strength of political parties; each party winning more than 5 percent of the popular vote is entitled to a proportional number of cabinet portfolios. In May 1994, the ANC was allocated seventeen cabinet portfolios, and a minister without portfolio was from the ANC. The NP was allocated six cabinet portfolios, and the IFP, three. After NP Minister of Finance Derek Keys resigned in July 1994, that post was designated "nonpartisan," and a new portfolio, General Services, was allocated to the NP in December 1994.

The president, in consultation with national party leaders, appoints a minister and deputy minister to manage each cabinet portfolio. In most ministries, a department staffed by government employees assists the ministry in the implementation of national policy. For example, the Department of Education, within the Ministry of Education, assists in implementing national educational policy. Each department is headed by a director general, who is generally a career government employee.

The cabinet customarily travels between the administrative capital, Pretoria, and the legislative capital, Cape Town, while the parliament is in session. The transitional cabinet's first session on May 23, 1994, took place in Cape Town. The president is required to consult with the cabinet and to gain the approval of two-thirds of the cabinet on issues of fundamental importance, but most cabinet decisions are reached by consensus.

The diversity represented in the new cabinet in 1994 was a major departure from earlier administrations (see table 16, Appendix). The ANC held key portfolios, such as foreign affairs, defense, safety and security, justice, and land affairs, and had strong deputy ministers in finance, home affairs, provincial affairs, and agriculture. The ANC appointees included older contemporaries of President Mandela, middle-aged former exiles, and younger antiapartheid activists of the 1980s. There were three women in the senior executive ranks--two women cabinet ministers and one woman deputy minister.

Other sharp breaks with the past were the reorganization and the renaming of several ministries. For example, in 1994 the Ministry of Law and Order became the Ministry of Safety and Security, and the Ministry of Information was subsumed under the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications, and Broadcasting. In addition, the apartheid-based distinction between a racial community's "own" affairs and "general" affairs was abolished.

One of the new government's most controversial cabinet appointments was the minister of foreign affairs, Alfred Nzo, a veteran of the antiapartheid struggle who had little foreign affairs background. Nzo's deputy, Aziz Pahad, had been considered effective in managing the ANC foreign affairs department during the preelection period, and new Deputy President Mbeki planned to maintain close oversight of the foreign affairs portfolio. Another controversial ANC appointment was that of Winnie Mandela, President Mandela's estranged wife, as deputy minister of arts, culture, science, and technology. In March 1995, the president removed Mrs. Mandela from her post as deputy minister, citing insubordination as the cause for her dismissal. (After a legal challenge of his action, Mrs. Mandela resigned from the post.)

Cabinet ministers from the NP included some of the previous government's most experienced members. Important portfolios were assigned to Keys, who retained the finance portfolio until his resignation, and to constitutional negotiators Roelf Meyer (Ministry of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development) and Dawie de Villiers (Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism). Veteran minister Roelof "Pik" Botha was appointed Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs.

To appease and to accommodate Mandela's rival, the IFP leader, Zulu Chief Buthelezi, he was appointed minister of home affairs. His duties include managing elections and internal issues, several of which affect his IFP stronghold in KwaZulu-Natal. Buthelezi also shares responsibility for resolving the country's growing problem of illegal immigration from neighboring states.


Under the interim constitution of 1993, legislative authority is vested in a bicameral parliament consisting of the National Assembly (lower house) and the Senate (upper house), based in the country's legislative capital, Cape Town. Members of the National Assembly are chosen by proportional representation: constitutionally, 200 of the 400 assembly delegates are chosen from party lists of national candidates, and 200 are chosen from lists of candidates representing specific provinces. The 200 selected from provincial party lists are allocated in the following proportions: Eastern Cape 28, Free State 14, Gauteng 44, KwaZulu-Natal 42, Mpumalanga 11, Northern Cape 4, Northern Province 25, North-West Province 12, and Western Cape 20.

In 1994 individual delegates could choose to run as national or provincial party delegates. Provincial party leaders submitted lists of delegates after elections or party caucuses in each province. A candidate nominated on a provincial list had to be a resident of that province, although exceptions were made for parties that listed only one nonresident candidate, or for cases in which fewer than 10 percent of the party's nominees lived outside the province. The assembly delegates elected a speaker and deputy speaker to preside over their deliberations. The speaker and the deputy speaker retained their parliamentary seats but could not vote, except in the case of a tie.

The Senate consists of ten members from each of the nine provinces, selected by the provincial legislature on the basis of proportional representation, to reflect party strength in each province. The president and the two deputy presidents preside over the Senate and are also members of the Senate. Although not granted a deliberative vote, they can vote in case of a tie.

The bicameral parliament is empowered not only to pass laws, but, in its additional role as the Constitutional Assembly, to draft and to adopt the final constitution, which had to be completed in 1996. Although intended to serve as the interim legislature for five years, parliament may be dissolved at any time by presidential decree, followed by new parliamentary elections.

The interim constitution requires ordinary bills introduced in either house of parliament to be voted on by both houses. If one house passes a bill and the other rejects it, the bill is referred to a joint committee from both houses. Both houses approve bills affecting the powers and the boundaries of provinces; the appropriate provincial legislature also must approve any bill affecting the powers and the boundaries of that province. Both houses deal with bills appropriating revenue or imposing taxes, and in case of a conflict between houses on any bill, the decision of the National Assembly prevails.

In accordance with the interim constitution, parliament generally convenes from January to June each year in Cape Town, although a briefer session may be called later in the year if needed. All members of the government plus many of the departmental secretaries and heads of other executive agencies reside in Cape Town when parliament is in session.

Reflecting the far-reaching changes in the new political system, the new parliament in 1994, unlike its predecessor, adopted an informal dress code--many new members dispensed with the conventional Western suit and instead wore kaftans or safari suits. For the first time as well, some speeches in parliament were delivered in African languages, with a bevy of translators assembled to render them in English or Afrikaans.

Volkstaat Council

In November 1994, the Volkstaat Council Act (No. 30) of 1994 established a Volkstaat Council within the legislative branch of the government to investigate the possibility of establishing an Afrikaner state within South Africa. The twenty members of the council were elected by a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate. The functions of the council are to gather information concerning possible powers, boundaries, and structures of such a state; to study the feasibility of these; and to submit recommendations to the joint National Assembly and Senate. The Volkstaat Council began deliberations in early 1995. Its formal proposals had not been presented as of mid-1996.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress