On 8 May the people of South Africa cast their votes in South Africa’s sixth non-racial democratic election to determine which political parties will represent them in Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures.
The important election coincided with the 25th anniversary of our constitutional democracy.
As the legislative authority of our democratic republic, Parliament must ensure there is government by the people, under the Constitution.
The National Assembly must ensure this by choosing a President, by providing a national forum for public consideration of issues, by passing legislation and by checking and evaluating executive action of government.
The National Council of Provinces ensures that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government. It does this mainly by participating in the national legislative processes and by providing a national forum for public consideration of issues affecting the provinces.
In terms of the law, within 14 days of the independent Electoral Commission of South Africa declaring the results of the election, the Houses of Parliament must be established. This happens at the first sittings of each of these Houses – the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
The Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa has the powers, under the Constitution, to determine the dates and times of these first sittings and presides over key aspects of them.
Following consultations between officials of the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) and Parliament, the first sitting of the National Assembly is provisionally set for 22 May. The Chief Justice will officially declare the date of the first sitting in due course.
At this sitting, the Chief Justice will preside over each Member of the National Assembly’s swearing in or affirmation of faithfulness to the Republic of South Africa and obedience to the Constitution. The National Assembly may be constituted of no fewer than 350 and no more than 400 members.
The Chief Justice will also preside over election of the Speaker of the National Assembly, who will preside over the election of the Deputy Speaker.
The Chief Justice will then preside over the election of the President, selected from amongst the Members of Parliament in the National Assembly. The President, once elected, ceases to be a Member of Parliament and must take up office within five days of being elected.
This happens when the President-elect, at the presidential inauguration, swears or affirms faithfulness to the Republic of South Africa and obedience to the Constitution and later announces the composition of the Cabinet.
For the first sitting of the National Council of Provinces to take place, each of the Provincial Legislatures must have held their first sittings and swearing in of Members of the Provincial Legislatures.
As is the case with the National Assembly, the first sittings of the provincial legislatures are provisionally scheduled for 22 May. The Chief Justice will, in accordance with his constitutional prerogative, announce the appropriate date in due course. Additionally, the Chief Justice has also designated the Judges President of the Divisions of the High Court to preside over the first sittings of the Provincial Legislatures. Provincial Premiers and Speakers will be elected at these sittings and the swearing in of Members of the Provincial Legislatures will also take place.
The Provincial Legislatures must appoint their permanent delegates – the National Council of Provinces is composed of a single delegation of ten delegates from each province. Four of the ten are special delegates and six are permanent delegates. Political parties are entitled to delegates in proportion of their representation. If a person who is a member of the provincial legislature is appointed as a permanent delegate, that person ceases to be a member of the legislature.
At the first sitting of the National Council of Provinces, provisionally scheduled for 23 May, following consultations between OCJ officials and parliamentary staff, the Chief Justice will preside over the swearing in or affirmation of faithfulness to the Republic of South Africa and obedience to the Constitution from the House’s permanent delegates.
The Chief Justice will also preside over election of the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, who is selected from the permanent delegates. The Chairperson will then preside over election of the Deputy Chairperson, House Chairpersons and the Chief Whip.
The President is expected to deliver the State of the Nation Address to a joint sitting of the Sixth Democratic Parliament in June.
By then, the parliamentary committees, which focus on specific government departments and entities, are expected to have been established.