State and politics
When the apartheid system, introduced in 1948, was
abolished in connection with the first free elections in
1994 and the freedom fighter Nelson Mandela became
president, many looked optimistic about the future of South
Africa. However, the hopes of a deeper democratic society
have largely come to shame; poverty is still widespread and
the ANC government and its top leadership have been hampered
by corruption scandals.
In democratic South Africa, introduced by the general
elections in 1994, the system of bantustans for the blacks
was abolished. The whole of South Africa is a political
entity, but in a complicated mix of central government and
federalism, the nine provinces have fairly far-reaching
powers in areas such as education, cultural issues and
The new constitution, which came into force in 1997, was
written by the Constituent Assembly, which consisted of
Parliament's two chambers: the 400 members of the National
Assembly elected every five years in proportional elections
and the 90 members of the provincial council, ten from each
province, elected by the provincial parliaments.
The president, who is head of state and government and
elected by Parliament for five years, can be re-elected
once. All of the country's presidents and prime ministers
since independence in 1910 have been men. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how SF can stand for South Africa.
The negotiations between the ANC (African National
Congress, the African National Congress), the
Nationalist Party (National Party, NP) and
other parties prior to the transition to democracy resulted
in a transitional basis in November 1993. According to this,
every party that had at least 5 percent of the vote would be
represented in the first "government of national unity".
This government consisted of the ANC, the Nationalist Party
and the Zuludominated Inkatha (Inkatha Freedom Party, IFP).
FW de Klerk was one of two Vice Presidents, ANC Vice
Chairman Thabo Mbeki the other.
As expected, the first free elections in 1994 became a
major victory for the ANC, which gained a majority in
Parliament (62.7 percent), but still not the two-thirds
needed to change the Constitution. The NP got a fifth of the
vote, and thanks to strong support among colored people in
the Western Cape province, the provincial government party
became there. Inkatha received a tenth of the votes. Nelson
Mandela became the country's first president after the
introduction of democracy.
NP never succeeded in getting support from blacks, and
was dissolved in 2005 after many of the party's MPs moved to
the ANC. Poor blacks have usually chosen between the ANC and
not to vote. The ANC's radical platform has gradually been
replaced by a reformist market-oriented approach, which has
drawn criticism from the South African Communist Party
(SACP) and the trade union Congress of South African
Trade Unions (COSATU), which have been allied with the
ANC since the early 1990s..
The ANC has maintained its strong grip on power and
received 66.4 percent of the votes in 1999 and 66.7 percent
in 2004. However, the party has struggled with internal
contradictions. Thabo Mbeki, who took over as president
after Mandela in 1999, was appointed for a second term in
2004, but resigned prematurely in 2008 and was replaced by
ANC Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe. This happened after
Mbeki lost an internal power struggle against former Vice
President Jacob Zuma. He was elected party leader in the ANC
in 2007 and after the 2009 election he was elected
The already earlier corruption-accused Zuma's time as
president became controversial with new corruption scandals
and national economic stagnation. Before the 2009 elections,
dissatisfied ANC members broke out of the party and formed
the Congress of the People (Cope), but the new
party received only 7 percent of the vote against the ANC's
65.9 percent. Five years later, the ANC did back down but
retained its position as by far the largest party with 62.2
percent of the vote.
The ANC is primarily challenged by two parties with
different profiles. The Liberal Democratic Alliance
(DA) is strongest in the Western Cape, where it has been in
the majority since 2009. The party is still considered by
many as a party for whites even though the party leader
since 2015, Mmusi Maimane (born 1980), is black. The DA has
been the largest opposition party since 1999 (9.6 percent of
the vote) and strengthened its position in all elections up
to and including 2014, when the party gained 22.2 percent of
The third largest party since 2014 is the left-wing
dissatisfaction party Economic Freedom Fighters
(EFF), founded by the former chairman of the ANC Youth
League, Julius Malema (born 1981). This year, the EFF
received 6.4 percent of the vote. The controversial Malema
in many camps has attracted voters with their militant
appearance as well as promises to nationalize mines and
force white farmers to leave their land without financial
The ANC's position weakened in the local elections held
in 2016, even though the party received more than 55 percent
of the vote nationally. Among other things, the party lost
power in the major cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria and
in symbolically saturated Nelson Mandela Bay (with the city
of Port Elizabeth) to DA-led coalitions. Cape Town was
previously ruled by the DA.
In February 2018, the ANC demanded that Zuma resign from
the presidential post prematurely, which he did in the
run-up to a vote of no confidence in Parliament. New
President was appointed Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa, who
at the end of 2017 also took up the post of ANC party
leader. During his first year as president, Ramaphosa took
several steps to address the problems of corruption and
boost the country's economy. However, he had to take into
account the strong support that Zuma still has in parts of
That the party would lose votes in the 2019 elections was
clear early on, and a result below 50 percent of the vote
would greatly weaken Ramaphosa's position. The party
eventually landed on 57.5 percent of the vote nationally and
managed by a marginal margin to retain the majority in the
symbolically important province of Gauteng (where
Johannesburg and Pretoria are located). The DA dropped
slightly to 20.8 percent but retained control of the Western
Cape Province, while the EFF went ahead to 10.8 percent of
The Dutch settlers applied Roman law, as described by the
Dutch jurists of the 17th and 18th centuries, i.a. Hugo
Grotius. This so-called Roman-Dutch law forms the
basis of private law in South Africa, but it has changed
over the years through both legislation and precedent.
Business law and public law are mainly
English-influenced. The judicial system is complicated and
consists of, among other things, small court,
Magistrates' Courts, provincial courts, the
Appellate Division of the Supreme Court and the
Constitutional Court. The death penalty was abolished in
1997; the last execution took place in 1991.
The 1996 Constitution lifts the injustices of South
Africa's past and defines the Republic today as a sovereign
democratic state based on the principles of human dignity
and the achievement of equality and the promotion of human
rights and freedoms.
Despite high aspirations to break away from its dark
past, the country continues to struggle with the legacy of
the apartheid era and the challenges posed by demands for
economic and social rights for all citizens. As an example,
hospital segregation is a closed chapter, but access to
healthcare is still significantly poorer in areas where the
majority of residents are black. The health of blacks is
also poor and malnutrition is widespread among rural
Discrimination on the grounds of race, disability, ethnic
or social origin, skin color, age, culture, language,
gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation or marital status is
now prohibited by law. Despite this, entrenched attitudes
and practices often lead to individuals being discriminated
against at home as well as at different levels of society.
Significant problems are the police's use of excessive
violence and torture as well as a high frequency of violent
crimes against women, children and LGBTQ persons.
The most serious is the situation for the children.
Offenses against children rarely lead to convictions.
Reports show that the level of sexual violence against girls
in the school environment from both teachers and students is
alarmingly high with consequences such as sexually
transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Organized
trafficking in children for sexual exploitation is extensive
and the children are smuggled mainly in the country, from
the poor countryside to the cities.
Freedom of speech and press is relatively good in South
Africa. However, the government and government-owned
ownership of independent media are increasing. In addition,
the state-owned media company South African Broadcasting
Corporation (SABC) has limited scope for criticism of the
government. In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index
for 2015, South Africa is ranked 39 out of 180.
Dutch style, Victorian style and 1930s art deco style.
The Zulu people have developed an advanced building
technology that is well adapted to their nomadic lifestyle.
The round dome houses are built of grass and twigs that are
woven together in a decorative way. On the outside, grass
ropes are braided in geometric patterns. In the past, when
Zulu owned large livestock herds, circular and fenced
settlements, kraals were created. The livestock, a
vital property of the Zulus, were in the middle of the kraal
so that the residents could monitor and protect it.
The traditional music of folk such as khoikhoi, nguni and
venda is mainly vocal with different forms of soloist and
multi-voice singing. Particularly significant are the
polyphonic dance songs, which in many places are accompanied
only by clapping. In these contexts, drums are used only by
venda. The most important instruments are end-blown flutes,
rattles and various variants of the musical arc, the latter
mainly for individual music performance.
The musical life of the whites has European roots, which
applies to the religious music of the African-speaking
population (liederwysies), folk songs and
traditional dance music (boeremusiek) as well
as the art music and its institutions. Several of South
Africa's composers have won international recognition,
including Arnold van Wyk (1916–83), John Joubert (born
1927), Gideon Fagan (1904–80) and Blanche Gerstman
Through the influence of, among others, the Christian
churches in South Africa have emerged from western inspired
choral musical traditions, sacred as well as secular, which
have formed the breeding ground for internationally renowned
singing groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Already in
1939 Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds recorded the
song "Mbube" ("The Lion"), on which the American groups The
Weavers and The Tokens later based their hit songs "Wimoweh"
and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
Early popular music, like jive, arose in the
slums of cities, especially in Johannesburg. Under the name
kwela, jive was played on simple tin whistle flutes
popular in the 1950s. When one of the foreground figures,
Spokes Mashiyane (1933-72), switched to saxophone, this
became the dominant instrument instead; the music was now
called mbaqanga. Mahlathini and the Mahotella
Queens are among the most important practitioners of music.
American music, first soul and then disco, made a big
impression on South African artists during the 1960s and
1970s. In the 1980s, the synthesizer became the dominant
instrument in well-produced but lightweight pop known as
bubblegum. During this period, but also later, Brenda
Fassie (1964–2004) was the country's biggest pop star.
Another bestselling artist was the reggae star Lucky Dube
Since the 1990s, popular music has been dominated by what
is called kwaito, a broad genre description of
music with influences from eg. house and drum'n'bass; Among
the influential representatives are the group TKZee. Hip-hop
has also had a major impact; among the most successful
groups are Prophets of da City.
Jazz occupies an important place in South African music
with singer Miriam Makeba as the brightest shining star.
During her time in exile, she had great success with African
songs such as "Pata Pata" and "The Click Song". Other
central figures are trumpeter Hugh Masekela (1939–2018) and
pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.
Among white pop/rock artists, Johnny Clegg (1953–2019)
has been the most significant. Modern African-language music
has been on the rise since 1994 but rarely exhibits any
Heads of State
||Charles R. Black
||JFT Naude (tf.)
||Jacobus J. Fouché
||FW the Clerk
||Kgalema Motlanthe (tf.)
||Jan Christiaan Smuts
||Jan Christiaan Smuts
||Johannes G. Strijdom