Federal Countries

South Africa


The indigenous black African tribes such as the Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, and Tswana, who for thousands of years lived in the region known today as South Africa, were quickly displaced by European settlers during the colonial period. By the end of the nineteenth century the region was dominated by the Dutch and the British. The Second Boer War of 1899-1902, fought between the British military and Afrikaans-speaking Boers of Dutch descent, resulted in a British victory and the consolidation of British rule over South Africa. This was followed by more than 90 years of minority white rule and apartheid government.

Many groups resisted the policies of racial segregation that existed throughout the twentieth century in the country, both through peaceful protests and political violence. The pressure exerted over decades by the anti-apartheid movement, and the resistance of the African National Congress (ANC), finally brought down the system of racial segregation and minority rule. The release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990 and the holding of multi-racial elections in 1994 ended apartheid, and under an interim constitution South Africa was administered by the temporary Government of National Unity. The new Constitution of South Africa, drafted by the Constituent Assembly, was adopted by the National Assembly in May 1996. The Government of National Unity’s administration of the country ended at the end of the first parliament in 1999. In the 1999 elections the African National Congress Party (ANC) were once again the largest party, and formed a government under President Thabo Mbeki. The ANC has won every subsequent general election in South Africa. In the most recent elections, held in May 2014, the ANC once again emerged victorious and President Jacob Zuma assumed a second term in office.


South Africa is divided into nine provinces, which themselves are divided into metropolitan and district municipalities. District municipalities are further divided into local municipalities. Finally, metropolitan and local municipalities are divided into wards.

The Republic of South Africa is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. The President of South Africa acts as both Head of State and Head of the Government. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is exercised by the government and the legislature, the South African Parliament. The South African Parliament is bicameral and consists of the Council of Provinces (the upper house) and the National Assembly (the lower house). The President is elected by the National Assembly and must maintain the confidence of that body in order to remain in office. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Government representatives are elected at national, provincial, and local levels of government. Each province has its own governing unicameral legislature, with representatives elected via proportional representation. Each provincial legislature elects a Premier who acts as one of the special provincial representatives to the Council of Provinces. The Premier has the power to appoint a provincial cabinet and provincial ministers (known as the Executive Council and Members of the Executive Council respectively).

South Africa currently has a strong central government and robust local governments. Provinces are comparatively weaker and central government controls the finances of provincial governments through the use of appropriation bills which determine provincial budgets. The political culture of the country is one that promotes “co-operative government” and aims to avoid the conflicts that arise in some federations in which competitive federalism is practiced. The rationale behind this concept is the need for South Africa to move beyond the inequalities of the apartheid system, which 20 years later continue to have lingering effects on economic and social equality throughout the country.