Parliament plays a direct and active role in national affairs. It is the place where the members of Parliament look after your interests. Members of Parliament (MPs) have many responsibilities, including -
- making laws that will improve our lives;
- discussing and debating government policy and other political issues;
- consulting with you, the people, and representing your views in Parliament;
- helping people in their constituencies;
- approving the budgets of government departments, as presented to Parliament by the Minister of Finance;
- making sure that the work that government promised to do is being done; and
- checking that public money is being spent wisely.
Click here to see Parliament's Strategic Plan.
For our country’s transition from apartheid rule to democracy, an interim constitution was negotiated between representatives of organisations involved in the liberation struggle, represented political parties and other interest groups. After the first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, members of the National Assembly and Senate, as the elected public representatives at the time, met as a body called the Constitutional Assembly to write a new Constitution. In 1996, after two years of public consultation and much debate, the new Constitution was finally adopted.
Our Constitution lays the foundation for an open society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights and is hailed worldwide as very progressive. It is the supreme law of our country and ensures government by the people under the Constitution. In other words, the Constitution is the highest law of the land and everyone must act according to its provisions and principles, even Parliament. Because we are a constitutional state, all laws made by Parliament must pass the test of constitutionality. So Parliament has to ensure at all times that the laws it makes are in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
WHAT IS THE CONSTITUTION?
The Constitution is a law agreed by the people’s representatives that sets out how the state will be constituted and run, our rights and responsibilities as citizens and the creation of particular institutions to support and safeguard our democracy.
Click here to view the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 in all official languages.
HOW THE STATE IS CONSTITUTED AND RUN
Our Constitution contains an important democratic principle called the separation of powers. That means that the power of the state is divided between three different but interdependent components or arms, namely the executive (Cabinet), the legislature (Parliament) and the judiciary (Courts of law).
- The Executive: The President is the head of state and of the national executive. He exercises executive authority together with other members of the Cabinet, namely the Deputy President and Ministers. The executive develops policy, for example by preparing and initiating legislation which it submits to Parliament for approval. It then implements that policy by running the administration of the country by means of the different government departments. The executive must account for its actions and policies to Parliament.
- The legislature (Parliament):The national legislature or Parliament consists of two Houses, the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces, whose members are elected by the people of South Africa. Each House has its own distinct functions and powers, as set out in the Constitution. The National Assembly is responsible for choosing the President, passing laws, ensuring that the members of the executive perform their work properly and providing a forum where the representatives of the people can publicly debate issues. The National Council of Provinces is also involved in the law-making process and provides a forum for debate on issues affecting the provinces. Its main focus is ensuring that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government. In specific cases, local government representatives also participate in debates in the National Council of Provinces.
- The Judiciary:The judiciary is made up of the courts, such as the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal, High Courts, Magistrates’ Courts and other courts established or recognised through an Act of Parliament. The head of the Constitutional Court is also the Chief Justice of South Africa. The Constitution states that the courts must be independent and act impartially. Organs of state such as Parliament and the executive must assist and protect the courts in order to ensure their independence, impartiality, dignity, accessibility and effectiveness.
THE RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE PEOPLE
Before its transition to a democratic, constitutional state, South Africa was known as a country in which the rights and freedoms of the majority of people were denied. To prevent this from ever happening again, our Constitution contains a Bill of Rights which can only be changed if two thirds of the members of the National Assembly and six of the nine provinces in the National Council of Provinces agree to such a change.
The rights in the Bill of Rights form the cornerstone of our democracy. An obligation is also placed on the state to respect, protect, promote and fulfil these rights.
Some of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights are the right to life, equality, human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association, political rights and the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration. These are normal rights that are guaranteed in most democratic countries because they ensure democracy and freedom.
The Bill of Rights also contains socio economic rights. In South Africa, where a large part of the struggle for freedom was about improving the lives of people, these rights are important. They place a duty on the government to address the problems that people experience when it comes to education, health services, water and housing.
The last group of rights included in the Bill of Rights is often the reason our Constitution is described as very modern and advanced. These rights include the right to the environment being protected, even for future generations, the right of access to information and the right to fair administrative action. The citizens of South Africa are even guaranteed the right to an efficient administration.
INSTITUTIONS THAT SUPPORT AND SAFEGUARD CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY
A very significant feature of our Constitution is that it sets up several independent bodies to support and safeguard our democracy. Informally these bodies are often referred to as the “Chapter 9 Institutions”, because the most important of these are provided for in Chapter 9 of the Constitution. These include the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Auditor General, the Public Protector and the Electoral Commission. Although the National Assembly may not interfere with the independence of these institutions, they are accountable to the National Assembly and have to report on their activities and the performance of their functions to the Assembly at least once a year.
The vision is an inspiring picture of a preferred future. It is not time-bound and serves as a foundation for all policy development and planning. It is specific to the institution, but linked to the overall vision of the legislative sector. In this regard, discussions during the review process centered round the vision set out by the National Development Plan. The vision aims to create an open, democratic, and equal society. The vision incorporates the additional element of an activist Parliament to broaden the intended impact on society so that equality can be achieved. This will reflect the evolving nature of Parliament and the need to enhance societal outcomes.
An activist and responsive people’s Parliament that improves the quality of life of South Africans and ensures enduring equality in our society.
The mission statement gives the reason for an institution’s existence based on its legislative mandate, functions and responsibilities. The mission should succinctly identify what the institution does, why and for whom. A key factor in the review process identified representation as the main function, whereby Members ensure that the people’s interests are taken into account, and responded to, ensuring government by the people. The new mission aligns with Sections 42(3) and 42(4) of the Constitution.
Parliament aims to provide a service to the people of South Africa by providing the following:
- A vibrant people’s assembly that intervenes and transforms society and addresses the development challenges of our people;
- Effective oversight over the Executive by strengthening its scrutiny of actions against the needs of South Africans;
- Participation of South Africans in the decision-making processes that affect their lives;
- A healthy relationship between the three arms of the State, that promotes efficient co-operative governance between the spheres of government, and ensures appropriate links with our region and the world; and
- An innovative, transformative, effective and efficient parliamentary service and administration that enables Members of Parliament to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities
Values identify the principles for the conduct of the institution in carrying out its mission. Institutional values are derived in conjunction with the institution’s mission. Values guide actions as to how a service is presented and must be experienced by citizens. In this regard the review process considered the context of Parliament, constitutionality and the function of representation, and the associated principles of openness, responsiveness and accountability. Organisational values direct and guide the nature of organisational leadership, decision-making, actions and the culture of the organisation.
Our Emblem and Symbols
OUR SOUTH AFRICA – THE SUN
The sun heals the divisions of the past, improves the quality of life of all South Africans, frees the potential of each person and builds a united and democratic South Africa to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
OUR PEOPLE – THE PROTEA LEAVES
Our people, building on the foundation of a democratic and open society, freely elect representatives to act as the voice of the people in a national forum for the public consideration of issues.
OUR PARLIAMENT – THE DRUM
The drum calls the people’s Parliament, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, together to consider national and provincial issues, thereby ensuring government by the people under the Constitution.
OUR CONSTITUTION – THE BOOK
Our Constitution lays the foundation for a democratic and open society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. It is the supreme law of our country and ensures government by the people.
THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MACE
Following on a decision by the Rules Committee to relook the symbols of Parliament, the Speaker presented new designs of the Mace for the National Assembly to the Rules Committee meeting on 26 March 2003. The new mace was designed to reflect the history, tradition, diversity, culture and languages of South Africa. Each element has been carefully chosen to reveal the different facets of Africanness and South Africanness.
Read more about the background, origin and symbolism of the parliamentary mace.
THE BLACK ROD FOR THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF PROVINCES (NCOP)
The Black Rod is the symbol of the authority of the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. The Black Rod is carried by the Usher of the Black Rod in ceremonial processions, e.g. into the House for a sitting. When it is placed upright next to the presiding officer’s chair, it indicates that the House is formally in session. The name Black Rod is derived from the ebony wood of which the Rod is traditionally made.
Read more about the background, origin and symbolism of the Black Rod.