National and provincial elections are held once every five years.

All South African citizens aged 18 and over are eligible to vote.

The Constitution places all elections and referendums in the country in all three spheres of government under the control of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), established in terms of the IEC Act, 1996 (Act 51 of 1996) [PDF] .

The obligations of the IEC are to:

  • manage elections of national, provincial and municipal legislative bodies
  • ensure that those elections are free and fair
  • declare the results of those elections
  • compile and maintain a voters' roll.

The duties of the IEC are to:

  • compile and maintain a register of parties
  • undertake and promote research into electoral matters
  • develop and promote the development of electoral expertise and technology in all spheres of government
  • continuously review electoral laws and proposed electoral laws, and make recommendations
  • promote voter education
  • declare the results of elections for national, provincial and municipal legislative bodies within seven days
  • appoint appropriate public administrations in any sphere of government to conduct elections when necessary.

The IEC manages an average of approximately 130 by-elections a year. By-elections are held when ward councillors vacate their seats for a variety of reasons including death, resignation, or expulsion from the party or the council.

In August 2016, millions of South Africans took to the polls to vote for their preferred municipality leaders. There were 26,3 million voters that were eligible to cast their ballots which was a 11% increase from the previous municipal elections – amounting to 2 678 307 more voters.

This was a new record for the IEC as the voters roll has grown by 42.5% since the first municipal elections in 2000.

There were 943 203 more voters (an increase of 3,7%) in 2016 than there were for the 2014 national and provincial elections.

Some 55% of voters 14,5 million were women and 45% (11,9 million) were men.

In terms of age, about 48% of all voters were under the age of 40 (12,7 million).

Gauteng had the highest number of voters with 6,2 million registered, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 5,4 million, the Eastern Cape with 3,3 million and the Western Cape with three million.

About 69% of all voters were from these four provinces.