South African Constitution 1996

Organisations & Institutions

Structure of Government in South Africa

The South African government is divided into three parts: the Executive (the Cabinet), the Legislature (Parliament), and Judiciary (the courts).

The Executive – Cabinet

The Executive is responsible for ruling the country through different departments or ministries. Each department is responsible for a different issue – for example, there is one for health matters, one for education, and one for sport. The Executive is a committee of all the heads of these departments. This is called the Cabinet

Parliament buildings in Cape Town

The legislature - Parliament

To legislate means to ‘make laws'. The legislature, or Parliament is where our elected representatives, the members of Parliament (MPs) meet to discuss matters and decide on new laws. The word Parliament comes from the French word for " to speak".

Parliament is made up of two groups, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The National Assembly is made up of all the Members of Parliament (MP's) that got seats in the general elections. There are 350 – 400 MP's in our National Assembly. The head of the National Assembly is called the Speaker. It is the Assembly's job to represent the public and to make sure the democratic laws of the Constitution are kept. They also have to check that the Cabinet does its job and does not go against the Constitution.

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) is a body that represents the nine provinces in the national government. Every province has ten representatives in the Council. When a province has a suggestion, it asks the Council to put it before Parliament. Then Parliament can decide and vote on the suggestion.

Judiciary – The Courts

The Judiciary is the court system. This is the part of government that has to make sure that those who do not keep the law are punished. There are different levels of courts. If a case in a low court is appealed, it goes to a higher court. The decision of the higher court can be different, and can overrule the decision of the lower court. The two highest courts in South Africa are the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal. The Constitutional Court has the highest say on matters that have to do with the Constitution. If Parliament wants to make a new law, the Constitutional Court first has to make sure that it does not go against the constitution. The Supreme Court of Appeal has the highest say in all other court matters. The court system is independent from the rest of government. After an election Parliament and the Cabinet can change, but the courts might still look the same. In other words, the elections do not influence the Judiciary.