South African parliament is a legislative body that consists of two Houses, the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces. The members of the parliament are elected by universal suffrage since 1994. Before that, the right to vote was restricted to white South Africans.
Each house of the parliament has its own functions and powers.
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 Assembly consists of no fewer than 350 and no more than 400 members elected for a five-year term.
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. The NCOP consists of 54 permanent members and 36 special delegates. Each of South Africa’s nine provinces sends 10 representatives to the NCOP - six permanent members and four special delegates headed by the provincial premier or a member of the provincial legislature designated by the premier. There is a formula to ensure that each province’s delegation includes representation by minority parties. In specific cases, local government representatives also participate in debates in the National Council of Provinces, but may not vote.
The current parliament, elected in April 2009, is the 25th in the history of South Africa and 4th democratically elected. It has 490 members: 400 in the National Assembly and 90 in National Council of the Provinces. The members of the National Assembly are elected by proportional representation with a closed list approach. Two hundred members are elected from national party lists; the other 200 are elected from provincial party lists in each of the nine provinces.
Thirteen political parties are represented in the current National Assembly, elected in 2009. African National Congress has 264 seats, Democratic Alliance 67, Congress of the People 30, Inkatha Freedom Party 18, Independent Democrats, United Democratic Movement, Freedom Front Plus, African Christian Democratic Party each have four seats, United Christian Democratic Party has three, and Pan Africanist Congress, Minority Front, Azanian People's Organisation and African Peoples' Convention have one seat each.
The Speaker of the National Assembly is Max Sisulu (ANC) and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces is M. J. Mahlangu (ANC).
Parliament sits in Cape Town, even though the seat of government is in Pretoria. This dates back to the foundation of the Union, when there was disagreement between several provinces as to which city would be the national capital.
Image source: The Parliament of Republic of South Africa