Politics and Government
South Africa is governed by a national Parliament (National Assembly) of 400 members who are elected once every five years during a national election. The national legislature is bound to uphold the national constitution, which was enacted in 1996 after apartheid ended. Representation in the National Assembly is based on the results of the election, and seats in the Assembly are allocated on a proportional basis (in other words, the more votes a political party gets, the more seats it will have in the Assembly). The state president may not serve more than two terms of five years.
At this time, there are three main political parties in South Africa. These are the African National Congress (ANC) in alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Congress of the People (COPE).
The ANC was formed in 1912 and was the main liberation organisation during the apartheid era. Leaders such as Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela were ANC members. The organisation was banned during apartheid, but was unbanned at the beginning of the 1990s and has since claimed nearly two thirds of the votes in every subsequent election. The leader of the ANC is invariably also the president of the country.
The SACP, despite its name, is allied to the ANC, and does not contest elections, but rides on the ANC ticket. Various high-ranking SACP officials have positions in national government.
The DA was formed by the amalgamation of the Democratic Party, which opposed apartheid, and the Nationalist Party, which was the party that instituted the apartheid regime. The DA typically claims less than 20% of votes nationally, and although it remains a vocal opponent of many ANC measures, its far smaller representation keeps it from becoming a significant influence in South African politics.
COPE was formed recently as a breakaway faction of the ANC, but internal troubles have beset the party virtually since its inception. It has yet to contest an election.
There are also other smaller parties, such as the United Democratic Movement (UDM), and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which only really has a significant support base in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.