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 Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), established in terms of the Electoral Commission Act, 1996 (Act 51 of 1996) .
The obligations of the IEC are to:
- manage elections of national, provincial and municipal legislative bodies;
- ensure that the elections are free and fair;
- declare the results of the elections; and
- 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; and
- 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. The sixth edition of the Local Government Elections were held 1 November 2021.
There are two kinds of electoral systems:
- Constituency-based elections – voters in each local area (constituency) elect an individual candidate to represent them in Parliament. The person who wins the majority of votes in each constituency becomes a Member of Parliament (MP). The party with the majority of MPs forms government. In this kind of elections system, the individual MP holds the seat, not the political party he or she belongs to.
- Proportional representation elections – voters in a large area vote for political parties. The political party chooses the people who will become its MPs. Each party is allocated a number of seats proportional to how many votes it got in the election.
Before 1994, South Africa made use of constituency-based elections, but since then national and provincial elections have used proportional representation and party lists. Local government elections use a mixture of proportional representation and constituency-based elections.
In August 2020, Cabinet approved the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill of 2020, which amends the Electoral Commission Act, 1996 (Act 51 of 1996); the Electoral Act, 1998 (Act 73 of 1998) and the Local Government Municipal Electoral Act, 2000 (Act 27 of 2000).
Parliament is elected using proportional representation and party lists. Before the election, each political party submits a list of candidates in a numbered order of preference. The seats of Parliament are allocated in proportion to the number of votes cast in the election. This means a party that won 10% of the votes gets 10% of the seats. If a party wins 20 seats, the first 20 people on its party list become MPs.