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Who Rules in South Africa?

This is a discussion that has been going around in my head for a very long time but I have just not got down to putting it in writing, so here goes. I am not referring to the theories that it is the Guptas or the Sheiks or even that ‘spin doctor’, Mac Maharaj.  No, it is the constant reference to the ANC as the Ruling Party by news readers, reporters and many others. It is not the Ruling Party! It is the party in Parliament with the most number of representatives.

In Chapter 4, Section 44 of the Constitution of South Africa as approved by Parliament in December 1996, it is clearly defined that Parliament has the legislative authority to rule and lead our country. This Section confers on Parliament, not the majority party, the power to pass legislation.

I am really tired of hearing news readers and other media reporters referring to the ANC as the Ruling Party. The ANC, currently, is the majority party in Parliament and yes, that is well over 50% – National and in 8 of the 9 Provinces but this does not make them ‘The Ruling Party’. We are NOT a 1-party state (yet?) and I trust that it will never happen. By continually referring to the ANC as the ruling party, the impression is given that they and they alone make all the decisions without any opposition or input from the other 35% of Parliamentarians.

We never hear that the Conservative Party in the UK or the Democratic Party in the US referred to as the Ruling Party. In fact, it frequently happens and, is the case right now, that the majority party in the US Congress is different from that in the Senate and vice versa. Also, the current majority party in the US Congress is the Republican Party which is not the party of the President. This does result in difficulties when one or other wants legislation passed         but it does allow for healthy compromise.

Returning to the South African situation and the powers of Parliament as detailed in the Constitution, Section 73 states that any Cabinet Minister, Deputy Minister, or a Member or Committee of the National Assembly may introduce a Bill. The only exception is a Money Bill, ie. a Bill imposing taxes, levies or duties (Section 77) which does not necessarily have to be submitted to the National Council of Provinces (NCP) unless the Bill directly affects the Provincial Government. All other Bills must be submitted for approval and the NCP must do 1 of 3 things: 1. Pass the Bill as submitted; 2. Approve the Bill with proposed amendments or 3. Reject the Bill. (Section 75 (1) (a)). Depending on the decision of the NCP, Parliament, NOT the majority party on its own, follows the procedures as laid out in Section 75(1) (b) & (c).

As I have said above, there is no question that the ANC is the majority party in our government structures but they cannot make laws on their own. The other parties have representation on the Committees of both the National and   Provincial Parliaments and so have the opportunity to add to the discussions and the decisions.

We have now completed our 5th election for National and Provincial Parliaments and the ANC has lost some ground (minimal) but it is still the majority party parliament. The important thing is that it is NOT a 2/3 majority which is what they were campaigning for. It is also the majority required to make changes to the constitution. This means that representatives of other parties have the opportunity to vote against this Bill, if they so wish, and so it cannot be passed! In fact there are instances where a 75% majority is required. In all instances, the support of at least 6 of the 9 provinces is also required.

Looking at the processes required and the involvement of other parties, to me it is clear that the ANC is not the RULING Party but the majority party in Parliament. There is no doubt that they do have the largest number of members in Parliament but they do not rule alone. It is up to us, the people of South Africa, to ensure that NO party obtains a 2/3, or greater, majority in either Parliament by voting at every opportunity and help to keep our incredible Constitution alive. Also, we must all practise referring to the ANC as the majority party and not the Ruling party.

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