National Assembly

The National Assembly is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the Constitution. It does this by:

  • choosing the President,
  • providing a national forum for public consideration of issues,
  • passing legislation and
  • scrutinizing and overseeing executive action.

Members of the National Assembly can change the government by passing a vote of no confidence in the President and/or the Cabinet.


The National Assembly must have a maximum of 400 Members and a minimum of 350 Members of Parliament (MPs).

Members are elected to the National Assembly through an electoral system based on proportional representation. The Constitution makes it clear that the current electoral system can be changed by a new law, provided that the new electoral system results, in general, in proportional representation. This means that candidates are appointed from party lists in proportion to the number of votes the party wins in the elections. So if a party wins half the votes it will hold half the seats in the National Assembly.

Office bearers of legislative institutions

Parliament: National Assembly

  • The Speaker and Deputy Speaker are the Presiding Officers and they manage the National Assembly's affairs. The Leader of Government Business is appointed by the President from the Cabinet, s/he is responsible for organising and synchronising the legislative work programme with government business.
  • Chief Whips (representing the majority party and largest minority party)
  • The Presiding Officers together with the Chief Whips and Leader of Government Business decide on the programme for Parliament.

Other office bearers are:

  • the Whips;
  • the Chairperson of Committees who presides at the sittings of a House when the Speaker and - Deputy Speaker are not available and approves the budget and expenditure of Committees, in consultation with the Chief Whip of the majority party; and
  • the leader of the largest opposition party who is recognised as being the official Leader of the Opposition.

Functions and responsibilities of office bearers

Presiding officers

The Speaker in the National Assembly and in the provincial legislatures is the person who presides over the proceedings of the House and is responsible for running the legislature subject to the policy laid down by the Joint Rules Committee of Parliament.

In the NCOP s/he is called the Chairperson and has the same powers as a Speaker. In the NCOP there are two deputies, one permanent and one rotating. The position of the second chairperson rotates amongst the provinces on an annual basis.

These presiding officers and their deputies are elected from amongst the Members of each legislature and are expected to be fair and impartial in the execution of their duties. They are responsible for:

  • presiding over meetings in the House and taking charge of debates, making sure that Members can participate freely while keeping to the rules;
  • interpreting the rules. S/he may also give a ruling or make a rule on a matter for which there is no provision in the current parliamentary rules;
  • regulating public access to meetings and ordering members of the public to leave the House, where necessary;
  • censuring Members, ordering them to leave the House and even ordering the offending Member to leave the precincts of Parliament until they have decided what action to take against the Member. In the event of serious disorder at a sitting, they may suspend the proceedings or adjourn the sitting.

The National Assembly may remove the Speaker or Deputy Speaker from office by resolution. A majority of the Members of the Assembly must be present when the resolution is adopted. Chairperson of Committees

The Chairperson of Committees is appointed by the Members of a legislature. His/her primary functions are:

  • to preside at meetings of the Committee of Chairpersons;
  • to approve the budget and expenditure of Committees, in consultation with the Chief Whip of the majority party; and
  • to preside at the sittings of a House when the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are not available.

Leader of Government Business (Leader of the House)

The Leader of Government Business is chosen by the President (with the consent of the Cabinet) from amongst the Members of the Cabinet and represents Cabinet in Parliament. The Leader of Government Business, in consultation with the Chief Whip of the majority party, plays a crucial role in deciding on the programme of the legislature and ensuring that government business is dealt with and properly synchronised.

Chief Whips and Party Whips

Whips contribute to the smooth running of a legislature. At the same time whips represent their party's interests and ensure the discipline of their members and the effective functioning of their party, both within the legislature as well as within the organisation. There are two Chief Whips who are the official office bearers. One represents the majority party and the other is from the largest minority party. The other parties have Senior Whips assisted by a number of other whips. The Chief Whips are formally appointed by the Speaker, based on the recommendations of the respective political parties.

The Chief Whip of the majority party, in consultation with the Chief Whip of the largest minority party, is responsible for the detailed arrangement of the legislative business, that is, the programme of the Legislature. S/he is also responsible for approving the budget of Committees in consultation with the Chairperson of Committees.


Much of the work of legislatures is delegated to Committees. This means that

  • issues can be debated in more detail than is possible in a full sittings of the House; public hearings can be held on specific matters;
  • Members assigned to a Committee can develop expertise and in-depth knowledge of the field covered by that Committee; and
  • internal arrangements, proceedings and procedures for the legislature can be devised and monitored.

The responsibilities of Committees include:

  • initiating legislation (rules for which have recently been established);
  • debating and amending legislation and policy documents;
  • monitoring the departments they oversee;
  • investigating and making recommendations on the budgets of these departments;
  • holding public hearings or asking for submissions on important bills; and
  • investigating any function of the executive and its department, which includes summoning ministers and any department official to appear before them to supply information;

Committees do not take decisions but make recommendations to the legislature. Usually these recommendations are expressed in the form of reports to the House.

Each Committee elects its own chairperson. Each Committee is supported administratively by a Committee secretary/clerk.

Portfolio and Select Committees

In the National Assembly there are "Portfolio" Committees which shadow government departments - for each government department/portfolio there is a portfolio committee. For example there is a Portfolio Committee on Housing which addresses issues which relate to the Department of Housing. The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) has equivalent Committees, known as "Select" Committees. But unlike the National Assembly committees, there is not always one committee per government department/portfolio but a cluster. For example the Security and Justice Select Committee deals with the portfolios of Justice, Safety and Security as well as Defence.

Committees in the provincial legislatures

Provincial legislatures also have committees. Like the national portfolio committees, they shadow the area of responsibilities of Member of Executive Council (MECs) - but unlike the national committees, there is not always one committee per MEC or government department/ issue.

Ad hoc committees

Both Parliament and provincial legislatures have temporary Committees, known as "Ad Hoc" Committees, which are formed to consider specific issues. They cease to exist once they have completed their mandates.

Standing Committees

Some committees are permanent structures and are known as "standing committees" such as the Public Accounts Standing Committee. Some permanent committees have members from both the National Assembly and the NCOP, which are called "joint" standing Committees such as the Joint Standing Committee on Defence. However the term "standing committee" is slowly being phased out. For example the Joint Standing Committee on Defence will shortly be renamed the Joint Committee on Security Matters.

Legislative Authority

Legislative authority is vested nationally in Parliament (section 44 of the Constitution). Provincial legislative authority is vested in the provincial legislatures (section 104 of the Constitution).


The national legislative authority, as vested in Parliament, gives the National Assembly the power - to amend the Constitution; - to pass legislation with regard to any issue, subject to certain provisions; and - to pass on any of its legislative powers to any legislature in the other spheres of government (except the power to amend the Constitution). It gives the NCOP the power - to participate in amending the Constitution (section 74); - to pass legislation affecting provinces (section 76); and - to consider any legislation passed by the National Assembly (section 75). Parliament may intervene in provincial legislation and make or change laws dealing with exclusive provincial matters (listed in Schedule 5 of the Constitution) only in the following cases (section 44 (2)): - to maintain national security, - to maintain economic unity, - to maintain essential national standards, - to establish minimum standards for rendering of services; or - to prevent unreasonable action by a province that might be detrimental to the other provinces.