A shallow anatomy of SA’s political and electoral structure

I am becoming increasingly aware that most South Africans don’t full understand the structure of Government in South Africa and how our electoral system works. Below I have attempted to summarise this as best I can.

Government in South Africa comprises 3 separate but related spheres:

  • Local Government = Municipalities and the elected Public Representatives (politicians) are councillors.
  • Provincial Government = Provinces and the Public Representatives (politicians) are MPL’s (members of the provincial legislature)
  • National Government = South African Government and the Public Representatives (politcians) are MP’s (Members of Parliament)

In Local Governments, half the councillors are directly elected to represent the people living in municipalities’s wards and the other half are “Proportional Representation” or PR councillors and are chosen by the party on the basis of the % the political party won. Thus there are twice as many councillors as there are wards in a municipality. Usually PR councillors are “deployed” to shadow the ward councillor in another ward with a view to winning the voters of that ward over in the next election.

Only in Local Government is any politician elected directly – ie. you vote for a person. In the rest of the spheres the political parties choose who will be appointed.

Thus, if a politician must be replaced in the Provincial or National spheres, the party just replaces them.

In the local sphere however, because ward councillors are directly elected, a by-election must take to allow the community to elect a new person to represent their community.

All SA reps are elected for 5 year terms.