Act – A law made by Parliament, i.e. legislation passed by both Houses of Parliament, assented to and signed by the President and published in the Government Gazette.

Adjournment – The closure of business of a sitting or session of the House or one of its committees.

Amendment bill – A bill introduced in order to change a particular provision or provisions in an existing Act.

Appropriation Bill – A bill granting authority to spend public money or to incur expenses for the requirements of the state.

Arms of government – Refers to the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature at national level.


Backbencher – See “Frontbencher”

Bells – Electronic bells that ring throughout the parliamentary buildings to call members to the Chamber at the beginning of a daily sitting or to participate in a vote. They also ring to indicate the adjournment of a House.

Bicameral Parliament – A Parliament consisting of two Houses or Chambers.

Bill – A draft Act of Parliament or a proposal for a new law that has been introduced in Parliament.

Black Rod – a gold staff symbolising the authority of the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. It is carried into the NCOP Chamber at the start of proceedings by the Usher of the Black Rod and placed in a drum adjacent to the Chair.

Budget – The government’s annual Appropriation Bill and Estimates of State Expenditure to give effect to its fiscal, economic and social policies. It is presented once a year in the

National Assembly by the Minister of Finance when he/she delivers the Budget Speech.

Budget Vote – An individual item in the Budget, indicating the amount of money requested by the government for each state department.


Candidate – A person whose name appears on a party list for election to Parliament or generally a person who is nominated for appointment to a particular office.

Caucus – All members of Parliament belonging to a specific political party. Party caucuses meet privately, usually weekly.

Chair – The office-bearer presiding over a meeting of a House or committee.

Chamber – The hall in which members of a House meet for a formal sitting of the House.

Chapter Nine institutions – Institutions listed in Chapter 9 of the Constitution as state institutions that have been created to support constitutional democracy, eg the SA Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector, the Auditor-General, the Commission for Gender Equality, and others.

Clause – An individually numbered provision in, or part of, a bill. Once a bill becomes an Act, its clauses are called sections.

Coalition government – An alliance or union between two or more parties for the purpose of governing the country, usually when one party does not obtain an outright majority of the votes in an election.

Committee – A group of members, usually from different parties, formally assigned to consider and report on bills and other matters referred to them.

Constituency – A geographical area assigned to a member of Parliament by his/her party.

Constituency office – The office of a member of Parliament in a geographical area.

Constitution – The supreme law by which the country is governed.

Constitutional Assembly – The National Assembly and the Senate, sitting jointly, to draft and adopt a new constitution, as mandated by the Interim Constitution of 1993.

Constitutional Court – The highest court in the country, dealing only with matters relating to the Constitution. All laws can be tested in the Constitutional Court to ensure that they are not in conflict with the Constitution.

Constitutional Principles – A solemn pact of 34 principles, agreed by the negotiaters of the Interim Constitution, according to which the elected representatives of the people of South Africa were mandated to adopt a new constitution.


Debate – A formal discussion by members of Parliament during which different parties get an opportunity to put their views on any matter before a House.

Deputy Speaker – A member of Parliament elected to assist the Speaker and to act as Speaker when the Speaker is absent.

Dissolution - Ending the life of a particular National Assembly and making a new election necessary, either at the natural end of the House’s five-year term or, if earlier, by a decision of the House.

Division – Occurs when members of a House formally record their names in favour of or against a proposal on which a vote is taking place.


Election – The process through which the citizens of the country select their members of Parliament by voting. In South Africa, parliamentary elections must be held at least every five years.

Electorate – All citizens of the country who are legally entitled to vote.

Estimates – A statement of the amounts that the government departments propose to spend in a financial year.

Evidence – Information that is given either orally or in writing to a committee considering a particular matter.

Executive – The President of the Republic and other members of the Cabinet. The Executive is the arm of government responsible for the formulation and execution of policy.


“First past the post” – A voting system where the candidate who gets the largest number of votes wins.

Floor of the House – The part of the Chamber reserved for members of the House. This may also refer to the central open space in the Chamber.

Free vote – A vote in which members are free to vote according to their consciences and not necessarily according to the guidelines, policies or decisions of their political party.

Frontbencher – A member of Parliament who holds office, either as a member of the Executive or as an office-bearer of Parliament or for his/her party. Such members usually occupy the front benches in the House. The other benches are occupied by the “backbenchers”.


Gallery (public) – A demarcated area in the Chamber from where members of the public and visitors may observe the proceedings of the House.

Government – The party or a coalition of parties that governs by virtue of having gained the most seats in a parliamentary election. The term is sometimes also used more narrowly to mean the Executive and the State administration.

Government of National Unity – In terms of the Interim Constitution of 1993, the government after the first democratic elections in 1994 was a Government of National Unity, consisting of members of the African National Congress, the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party.


Hansard – The official, substantially verbatim record of the debates of Parliament.

Head of state – The President of the country and head of government.

Hearing (as in committee hearing) – A meeting of a parliamentary committee for the purpose of obtaining the viewpoints of members of the public on a matter being considered by that committee.

House – The National Assembly or the National Council of Provinces.

House Chairpersons – Members elected to assist the Presiding Officers in both Houses with their presiding duties in the House and other functions relating to the management of the institution.


Introduction (of a bill) – To bring before or formally present a bill to a House for consideration.


Joint committee – A committee made up of members of both Houses of Parliament. Some joint committees exist in terms of the Constitution, such as the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, and others were established by a decision of both Houses, for example to monitor the government’s commitments in respect of women, children, youth and the disabled.

Joint Sitting – The National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces sitting together for the purpose of conducting joint business.

Judiciary – The arm of government that is responsible, through the courts, for the administration of justice.


Leader of Government Business – A Cabinet member appointed by the President to oversee and manage government business in Parliament.

Leader of the Opposition – The leader of the largest opposition party in Parliament.

Legislation – A general term for laws, statutes or Acts.

Legislative process – The steps followed in Parliament which result in a law being made.

Legislature – A law-making body of elected representatives. The arm of government with the power to make and change laws.

Lekgotla – A Setswana word describing a gathering of elders or advisers to the king. Nowadays commonly used to refer to a meeting of a group of decision and/or opinion makers.


Mace – A richly ornamented staff that represents the authority of the National Assembly and the Speaker. At the start of a day’s proceedings, the mace is carried into the Chamber by the Serjeant-at-Arms who places it in a stand in front of the Speaker’s Chair.

Maiden speech - The first speech in the House by a new member. Customarily a maiden speech is not controversial by nature and other members then refrain from interrupting by making interjections.

Majority party/governing party – The policital party that forms the government because it had more of its members elected to Parliament by the people than any other political party.

Member of Parliament – A person elected to the National Assembly or a delegate appointed to the National Council of Provinces. There are 400 members in the National Assembly and 54 permanent delegates and 36 special delegates in the National Council of Provinces.

Minister – A member of the Executive who is politically in charge of one or more government departments or ministries.

Minority party – A party or coalition of parties which does not have a majority in the House.

Money bill – A bill imposing a tax or levy or proposing the spending of money for a particular purpose. The Appropriation Bill is a money bill.

Motion – A motion is a proposal by a member that the House do something, order something to be done or express an opinion with regard to some matter. A motion, if adopted, becomes a resolution of the House. It could also just be a proposal for the House to debate a matter, ie a member proposing a subject for discussion.

Move – To make a formal proposal.


Notice of motion – An announcement by a member that he/she intends putting forward a motion for consideration.


Opposition – Members of Parliament who are not members of the governing/majority party.

Order Paper – An approved programme or agenda setting out the items of business which the House is expected to deal with on a particular day.

Order of the day – An item of business which the House, through its Programme Committee, has ordered to be set down for discussion on a particular day.

Out of order – Something that is said or done that is not in accordance with the recognised parliamentary rules or practice.


Point of order – A question by a member to the Chair as to whether proceedings in a meeting are in accordance with the rules or practice.

Proportional representation – Representation of parties in an elected body in proportion to the votes they received in an election.

Portfolio committee - A committee whose membership is confined to a specific number of members of the National Assembly. Portfolio committees exercise oversight over a particular government department or “portfolio” and deal with bills within that portfolio.

Presiding Officer – A member elected or appointed to chair House sittings. The term also refers to the elected political leaders of the institution.

Proceedings – The business conducted in the House or in a committee.


Reading – A formal stage in the passage of a bill through the National Assembly.

Rules – The formally agreed directives according to which the business of the Houses and committees is conducted.

Ruling – A formal decision by a Presiding Officer, usually on a matter of procedure and relating to the rules and practice of the House.


Senate – From 1994 until the adoption of the Constitution in 1996, the House which together with the National Assembly formed South Africa’s bicameral Parliament.

Select committee – A committee whose membership is confined to a specific number of members of the National Council of Provinces. Select committees monitor a cluster of state departments and deal with bills relating to those departments.

Serjeant at Arms - An officer of the National Assembly who conducts the Speaker or Presiding Officer into the Chamber each sitting day, bearing the Mace.

Speaker – The principal presiding officer of the National Assembly, elected by the House.

Statutes – Acts of Parliament or a legislative body. Together these enactments make up the Statute Book, usually a series of volumes that form a complete official record.


Tagging – In terms of the Constitution, different bills follow different processes within Parliament, depending on their content. Tagging refers to the classification of a bill into its appropriate legislative category.

Tricameral Parliament – A Parliament consisting of three Chambers or Houses, e.g. from 1984 to 1994 South Africa had a tricameral system comprised of the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and House of Delegates.


Unparliamentary language – The use of offensive or unbecoming language by a member in proceedings of the House or a committee. If found guilty of this offence, members will be asked to withdraw the offending remark.

Usher of the Black Rod - An officer of the National Council of Provinces who conducts the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces or Presiding Officer into the House each sitting day, bearing the Black Rod.


Westminster system – A system of government originating in Britain, the main features of which are a head of state (the Queen) who is not the head of government (Prime Minister) and an executive which is drawn from and directly responsible to Parliament.

Whip – A member of a political party who is responsible for organising the party’s participation in Parliament. Combined, the whips are sometimes referred to as “the whippery”.