South African Government

Let's grow South Africa together

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 (NA) 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, non-sexism, 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 (MPs) elect the president, provide a national forum for the public consideration of issues, pass legislation, and scrutinise and oversee executive action. 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.

Office Bearers of the National Assembly

At its first sitting after a general election, the National Assemblyelects the Speaker, the principal office bearer of the National Assembly. The Speaker has many responsibilities which include constitutional, statutory (in terms of the law), procedural and administrative powers and functions. The duties of the Speaker fall broadly into three categories:

  • presiding over sittings of the House, maintaining order and applying its rules;
  • acting as representative and spokesperson for the National Assembly and (with the Chairperson of the Council) for Parliament; and
  • acting as Chief Executive Officer for Parliament, in conjunction with the Chairperson of the Council.

Though the Speaker is a member of a political party, he or she is required to act impartially and protect the rights of all parties. The Speaker is assisted by the Deputy Speaker and three House Chairpersons, each with specific areas of responsibility determined by the Speaker.

The leader of the opposition – a leader of the largest minority party (or largest party that is not in government) – enjoys a special status in Parliament. 

The post is specified in the Constitution and is accorded a specific salary, though the holder has no specific duties in terms of the rules.


In accordance with the powers given to it by the Constitution, the National Assembly establishes a range of committees with assigned powers and functions. The committees are required to report regularly on their activities and to make recommendations to the House for debate and decision.

There is a portfolio committee for each corresponding government department. The composition of the committees reflects, as far as is practicable, the numerical strengths of the parties represented in the National Assembly . The committee deliberates on Bills that cover the respective department’s area of jurisdiction and scrutinises and reports on its annual budget and strategic plan. Members of the committees determine whether government departments are delivering on what they promised and whether they are spending the public money they receive in a responsible manner. As part of their oversight work, committees may also do site visits where they find out directly from the people at ground level whether government is delivering on its promises.

If a committee reports on a matter and makes certain recommendations, the report is debated in a full sitting or plenary to give other members of the House an opportunity to engage with the content. Once the report has been debated, the House decides whether to adopt the committee’s recommendations. The House may also decide to only note the report or it may refer the report back to the committee with an instruction to do further work.

National Council of Provinces (NCOP)

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

The National Council of Provinces 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 National Council of Provinces.

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 National Council of Provinces through the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). South African Local Government Association is entitled to 10 representatives who may participate in the debates and other activities of the National Council of Provinces, but may not vote.

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

The National Council of Provinces 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 National Council of Provinces.

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 National Council of Provinces 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 National Assembly and rules of the National Council of Provinces 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 National Assembly the power to consider, pass, amend or reject any legislation before the National Assembly and to initiate or prepare legislation, except Money Bills. It also confers on the National Council of Provinces 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 National Assembly, only Bills referred to in section 76(3) of the Constitution may be introduced in the National Council of Provinces.

Money Bills, such as the Appropriation Bill and the Division of Revenue Bill, may only be introduced in the National Assembly and not in the National Council of Provinces.

The Constitution and the Rules of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces 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 National House of Traditional Leaders 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 National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, respectively.

To this end, it places an obligation on the National Assembly 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 National Council of Provinces 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 National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, 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 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 National Council of Provinces's  Taking Parliament to the People Programme, 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

Parliamentary international relations is the continuation of a political process and dialogue among legislatures of the world. At different international meetings, MPs and presiding officers have the opportunity to exchange views with their counterparts from other countries on a range of international challenges.

The Parliament of South Africa participates in several international forums and organisations, including the:

Parliament has identified four guidelines that inform its international relations programme of action:

  • Developing and strengthening partnerships in Africa: Parliament, in line with the country’s foreign policy, gives special attention to Africa in its overall international relations policy framework. This includes engaging proactively with some of the legislative assemblies of countries where the South African Government has been involved in peace building efforts.
  • Advancing multilateralism: evolving international structures have placed a greater responsibility on parliamentarians, in view of their oversight role, to interact with one another on matters such as respect for the rule of law, human rights, and governments’ transparency and accountability. Parliament’s participation in international parliamentary bodies is also aimed at making significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and getting support for Africa’s development agenda.
  • Bilateralism through friendship societies and strategic groups: at this stage, Parliament is focusing on building bilateral relations with other legislative bodies through proactively forming “friendship groups” with those bodies rather than establishing formal ties. However, the National Assembly has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the People’s Assembly of the People’s Republic of China, the only formal bilateral agreement it has entered to date.
  • Providing for public input: Parliament makes provision, through the relevant offices, committees and other mechanisms, to ensure that there is ongoing engagement with the public on important international relations issues, in line with the vision and programmes of Parliament.

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 National Council of Provinces provides a forum for the representation of local government at national level through South African Local Government Association. Specific cooperative governance mechanisms spearheaded by the National Council of Provinces include the National Council of Provinces Oversight Week, Provincial Week and Local Government Week. The National Council of Provinces 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.

The 2020 Provincial Week was held from 26 to 30 October.The Provincial Week is one of the flagship oversight programmes of the National Council of Provinces for all spheres of the legislative sector, including provincial legislatures and municipalities, to reconnect with the local communities and identify service delivery challenges, seek solutions, as well as innovative ways to drive effective development for all communities.

The Local Government Week aims to strengthen the relationship between the National Council of Provinces and the South African Local Government Association 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.

The 2020 annual Local Government Week was held virtually from 8 to 11 September under the theme, “Ensuring Capable and Financially Sound Municipalities”.

The theme focused mainly on how the national and provincial spheres of government intend to assist the local sphere of government in improving service delivery, financial management, and governance.

Sessions included conversations on building a coherent oversight plan for capable and financially sound municipalities, the challenges and opportunities of local government in advancing the fundamental tenets of a developmental state, and the role of the National Council of Provinces in overseeing a district-wide framework to enhance the functioning and financial sustainability of municipalities.

Source: South Africa Yearbook 2020/21

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