South African Government

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National legislature (Parliament)

National Assembly (NA)
National Council of Provinces (NCOP)
Legislative and policy framework
Function of Parliament
Public participation
International participation
Cooperative governance




Parliament is the legislative authority of South Africa and has the power to make laws for the country, in accordance with the Constitution.

It consists of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). Parliamentary sittings are open to the public.

The role of Parliament, as the representative of the people, is to promote and oversee adherence to the values of human dignity, equality, non-racialism, nonsexism, and all other rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and to oversee the implementation of constitutional imperatives. Through legislative and other measures, Parliament also ensures that the independence, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the judiciary and other state institutions is upheld.

The mandate of Parliament is based on the provisions of chapter 4 of the Constitution, which establishes Parliament and sets out the functions it performs. Parliament is elected to represent the people, ensure government by the people under the Constitution, and represent the interests of provinces in the national sphere of government. Members of Parliament elect the president, provide a national forum for the public consideration of issues, pass legislation, and scrutinise and oversee executive action.

Parliament’s policy priorities set out long-term policy and outcomes. These are aligned with the priorities and outcomes of the National Development Plan. To ensure that these outcomes are met over feasible timeframes, five-year, 10-year and 15-year milestones have been set.

Since 1994, a number of steps have been taken to make it more accessible and to motivate and facilitate public participation in the legislative process.

The official governmental website encourages comment and feedback from the public.

National Assembly

The National Assembly is elected to represent the people and to ensure democratic governance as required by the Constitution. It does this by electing the President, providing a national forum for public consideration of issues, passing legislation, and scrutinising and overseeing executive action.

The National Assembly consists of no fewer than 350 and no more than 400 members elected through a system of proportional representation.

The National Assembly, which is elected for a term of five years, is presided over by the Speaker, assisted by the Deputy Speaker.

National Council of Provinces (NCOP)

The NCOP is mandated to represent the provinces to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of Government.

The NCOP consists of 90 provincial delegates (10 delegates for each of the nine provinces). A provincial delegation consists of six permanent delegates and four special delegates. The permanent delegates, who are appointed by the nine provincial legislatures, are based at Parliament in Cape Town.

The four special delegates consist of the Premier of the province and three special delegates, assigned by each province from Members of the Provincial Legislature and rotated depending on the subject matter being considered by the NCOP.

The Premier of a province is the head of the province’s delegation but he or she can assign any other delegate to lead the delegation in his or her absence.

Organised local government is also represented in the NCOP through the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). SALGA is entitled to 10 representatives who may participate in the debates and other activities of the NCOP, but may not vote.

The NCOP consists of 54 permanent members and 36 special delegates, and represents provincial interests in the national sphere of government.

The NCOP must have a mandate from the provinces before it can make certain decisions.

Special calculations of the popular vote in elections make sure that minority interests are represented in each province’s delegation to the NCOP.

The NCOP Online links Parliament to the provincial legislatures and local government associations. It also provides information on draft legislation and allows the public to make electronic submissions.

The NCOP came into existence in February 1997.

Legislative and policy framework

The mandate and functions of Parliament are based on the following core pieces of legislation:

Other legislation relevant to the work of Parliament includes:

The Joint Rules of Parliament, Rules of the NA and Rules of the NCOP augment these Acts, as the Constitution empowers Parliament to make Rules and Orders concerning its business.

Additional frameworks of relevance to the work of Parliament include:

Function of Parliament

The core functions of Parliament include making laws, overseeing the work of the Executive and State institutions, facilitating public participation, international participation and cooperative governance.


Section 43(a) of the Constitution vests the legislative authority of the national sphere of government in Parliament. This confers on the NA the power to consider, pass, amend or reject any legislation before the Assembly and to initiate or prepare legislation, except money Bills. It also confers on the NCOP the power to consider, pass, amend, propose amendments or reject any legislation before the Council and initiate or prepare legislation falling within a functional area listed in Schedule 4 of the Constitution or other legislation referred to in section 76(3), except money Bills.

The Constitution distinguishes between four categories of Bills:

  • Bills amending the Constitution (section 74)
  • Ordinary Bills not affecting provinces (section 75)
  • Ordinary Bills affecting provinces (section 76)
  • Money Bills (section 77).

Whilst any of these categories of Bills may be introduced in the NA, only Bills referred to in section 76(3) of the Constitution may be introduced in the NCOP.

Money Bills, such as the Appropriation Bill and the Division of Revenue Bill, may only be introduced in the NA and not in the NCOP.

The Constitution and the Rules of the NA and NCOP outline the processes that Parliament must follow when passing each category of Bills. Furthermore, section 18(1) of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Amendment Act, 2003 (Act 41 of 2003), obliges the Secretary to Parliament to refer any parliamentary Bill relating to customary law or customs of traditional communities to the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) for comment  before it is passed by the House of Parliament in which it was introduced. The NHTL has 30 days to comment on a Bill so referred.

As the representative of the people of South Africa, Parliament realises the importance of processing and/or passing quality legislation aimed at improving the quality of life of the people and involving the public in the processing of legislation. To this end, it plans to develop a legislative model to guide members of parliament and staff in the processing of legislation.

The main aim of the model is to enhance the law-making processes and procedures of Parliament to enable the institution to pass quality laws that will improve the quality of life of all.


The parliamentary oversight function is one of the cornerstones of democracy. It holds the Executive accountable for its actions and ensures that it implements policies in accordance with the laws and budget passed by Parliament.

The robust monitoring of the Executive by Parliament is an indicator of good governance, as it is through oversight that Parliament can ensure a balance of power and assert its role as the defender and/or the legitimate custodian of the people’s  interests. The Constitution envisages a specific oversight role for the NA and the NCOP, respectively.

To this end, it places an obligation on the NA to provide for mechanisms to ensure that all Executive organs of state in the national sphere of government are accountable to it and to maintain oversight of the exercise of national executive authority, including the  implementation of legislation.

The Constitution requires the NCOP to exercise oversight over national aspects of provincial and local government.

The Oversight and Accountability Model makes provision for various oversight mechanisms, including exercising oversight through committees, oversight visits, the passing of budget votes, questions for executive reply, members’ statements, notices of motion, debates on matters of public importance and constituency work. One of the significant features provided for in the Model is the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Oversight and Governance Assurance Committee to pursue all assurances, undertakings and commitments given by ministers on the floor of the Houses and the extent to which these assurances have been fulfilled.

Public participation

Participatory democracy is based on the premise that public participation processes strengthen institutions of representative democracy by actively involving the public in the decision-making processes of government. The Constitution requires the NA and the NCOP, respectively, to facilitate public involvement in the legislative and other processes of the houses and its committees by conducting its business in an open manner. Whilst Parliament may take reasonable measures to regulate access, it may only exclude the public from a sitting of a House or Committee if it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society.

In an effort to streamline public participation processes and make it more effective, the Legislative Sector has developed a Public Participation Framework to guide the public participation activities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures.

The Framework provides certain minimum norms and standards to ensure alignment in public participation processes and activities. Based on this Framework, Parliament has developed a Public Participation Model, which was adopted by the Joint Rules Committee in November 2017.

The model provides the institution with minimum requirements for public involvement and participation. Specific public participation mechanisms outlined in the model include the People’s Assembly, the NCOP Taking Parliament to the People, Oversight visits by parliamentary Committees, Sectoral engagements such as youth and women’s parliaments, petitions and other forms of participation in law making and other processes.

International participation

Historically, Parliaments had limited involvement in the international arena, as this was traditionally regarded as the domain of the Executive arm of the State. However, due to changes in the international system, such as a new wave of participatory democracy, globalisation and developments in global governance structures, the lines between what is regarded as national and international policy areas have become increasingly blurred, resulting in a greater impetus for parliamentary engagement in international relations.

To this end, and in giving effect to the need to democratise international decision-making and subjecting the Executive to the same degree of international oversight as is done over domestic matters, the South African Parliament participates in international relations through the traditional oversight approach and through parliamentary diplomacy.

At national level, Parliament engages in international relations through the work of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation and the Select Committee on Trade and International Relations. The commitees oversee the work of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation by monitoring its budget, holding hearings on pertinent international relations matters and engaging in site visits, amongst others. Various parliamentary committees also conduct study tours to different countries.

At the regional and international level, Parliament engages in bilateral and multilateral relations. Bilateral relations are fostered through official visits, courtesy call meetings and the conclusion of formal parliament-to-parliament cooperation agreements.

At the multilateral level, South Africa participates in the regional, continental and international parliamentary fora, such as the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum, the Pan African Parliament, the African, Caribbean and Pacific-European Union Joint Parliamentary Assembly, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the BRIGS Parliamentary Forum, and the Global Legislators’ Organisation International.

Through these activities, South African parliamentarians actively pursue the country’s foreign policy priorities of advancing and promoting the African Agenda, South-South cooperation, North-South dialogue, transforming and strengthening the multilateral system of governance, and promoting global equity and social justice.

Cooperative governance

The Constitution creates three spheres of government at national, provincial and local level as distinctive, interdependent and interrelated. It enjoins all spheres of government to observe and adhere to the principles of cooperative government.

Parliament plays a significant role in facilitating cooperative governance through its work with the other arms and spheres of government. This includes the appointment and dismissal of office bearers of the Institutions Supporting Democracy, various Commissions, Boards and Councils. Parliament also ratifies International Protocols and Conventions, confirms the provisional suspension of magistrates, approves the salaries, allowances and benefits of magistrates and judges.

The NCOP provides a forum for the representation of local government at national level through SALGA. Specific cooperative governance mechanisms spearheaded by the NCOP include the NCOP Oversight Week, Provincial Week and Local Government Week. The NCOP Oversight Week was established to enable members to follow up on matters arising from the Taking Parliament to the People programme to verify information received.

During Provincial Week, permanent delegates return to the provinces to conduc joint oversight with the respective provincial legislatures on a theme decided upon in consultation with the relevant Provincial Legislature.

Local Government Week aims to strengthen the relationship between the NCOP and SALGA by, amongst others, debating matters relating to local government and seeking solutions to challenges facing the local sphere of government within the context of cooperative government and intergovernmental relations.

Source: South Africa Yearbook 2018/19

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