South Africa's political parties

South Africa has a vibrant multiparty political system, with 16 parties represented in parliament. The African National Congress is the majority party in the National Assembly and controls eight of the country's nine provinces. But opposition parties remain robust and vocal.

To help you get the full political picture, here's the rundown on the history and policies of the parties represented in South Africa's parliament.


* African National Congress
* Democratic Alliance
* Inkatha Freedom Party
* United Democratic Movement
* Independent Democrats
* African Christian Democratic Party
* Freedom Front Plus
* National Democratic Convention
* Pan Africanist Congress
* United Christian Democratic Party
* Minority Front
* Azanian Peoples Organisation
* Other parties
* SA Communist Party
* New National Party


African National Congress website

African National Congress
(293 seats in the National Assembly)
The South African Native National Congress was founded in 1912 with the aim to bring together Africans to defend their rights and fight for freedom. In 1923 its name was changed to the African National Congress (ANC).

Following the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, the party was banned by the Nationalist government. From 1961 organised acts of sabotage began, marking the emergence of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC. The ANC was to be an underground and exiled organisation for the next 30 years.

In February 1990, the government unbanned the ANC and released Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. The ANC was again able to openly recruit members and establish regional structures.

In the historic 1994 elections the ANC won 62% of the vote. Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first democratically elected president. In the 1999 elections the party increased its majority to a point short of two-thirds of the total vote. A two-thirds majority allows a party to change the constitution. Thabo Mbeki succeeded Mandela as president of the country.

ANC policy is to increase economic growth and reduce poverty. The Freedom Charter remains the party’s basic policy document. Adopted in June 1955 by the ANC and its allies, the charter lists principles upon which a democratic South Africa should be built.

In 1994 the ANC adopted the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) as a policy framework to guide it in transforming South Africa from a divided society to one that provides equal opportunities for all its citizens. The four main principles of the RDP are:

* meeting the people's basic needs, such as housing, water and electricity;
* developing the country's human resources;
* building the economy; and
* democratising state institutions and society.

In 1996 the ANC adopted the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macroeconomic strategy, or Gear. This is a strategy for rebuilding and restructuring the economy in line with the main principles of the RDP.

Some of the successes of the ANC's social strategy include:

* In 1994, 64% of South African households had their own home; by 2004 this was 78%. Electricity was extended from 58% to 85% of households.
* From 1994 to 2004, household access to water increased from 68% to 75%. Access to sanitation services was extended from 49% to 63% of households.
* Expenditure on social grants increased 3.7-fold between 1994 and 2004, from R10-billion to R37.1-billion. The number of beneficiaries grew from 2.6-million to 7.9-million.
* From 1992 to 1996, the proportion of public spending devoted to primary healthcare increased from 11% to 21%. Full immunisation coverage at the age of one year was increased from 63% in 1998 to 72% in 2002. Routine coverage for the oral polio vaccine grew from 74% in 1998 to 89% in 2003.
* Expenditure on education, the largest single budgetary item in South Africa, increased from R43-billion in 1999 to R70-billion in 2003.
* In 1994 14% of the population had a matric certificate; by 2004 this was 25%. And in the 10 years since democracy, functional literacy has risen from 66% to 80%.

Also see the South African Communist Party and the New National Party.

Democratic Alliance website

Democratic Alliance
(47 seats in the National Assembly)
The Democratic Alliance, formerly known as the Democratic Party (DP), espouses liberal democracy and free market principles. The party's forerunner was the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), whose veteran politician Helen Suzman was its only representative in the white parliament for many years. Suzman upheld liberal policies in the apartheid-era legislature and spoke out against apartheid laws.

In the 1980s the party increased its parliamentary seats to seven. Among the new MPs was Tony Leon, who became DP leader in 1996, introducing a more aggressive approach to opposition politics.

The DP's campaign slogan for the 1999 elections - "Fight Back" - gained it a substantial number of white voters who were disillusioned with the New National Party. It increased its vote from 1.7% in 1994 to about 10% in 1999, making it the official opposition.

In 2000 the DP joined forces with the New Nationalist Party to form the Democratic Alliance (DA). But in late 2001 the NNP withdrew from the pact. In August 2004 the NNP's national executive decided to disband the party. Its public representatives now fall under the discipline of the ANC.

The DA seeks to promote:

* a prosperous, open opportunity society in which every person is free and equal before the law;
* a spirit of mutual respect, inclusivity and participation among the diverse people of South Africa;
* a free enterprise economy driven by choices, risks and hard work; and
* a vigorous, critical and effective opposition that is loyal to the constitutional order and promotes the well-being of the country.

Inkatha Freedom Party website

Inkatha Freedom Party
(23 seats in the National Assembly)
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, draws its support largely from Zulu-speaking South Africans. Its strongholds are the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the migrant workers’ hostels in the metropolitan areas of Gauteng.

Buthelezi has led the IFP since he founded it as the Inkatha National Cultural Liberation Movement in 1975. His political career dates back to the 1940s, when he joined the ANC Youth League while studying at Fort Hare University.

In 1953 he took up a position as chief of the Buthelezi clan, and in 1970 was appointed head of the KwaZulu Territorial Authority in terms of the apartheid-era Bantu Administration Act. He became the homeland's chief minister in 1976.

Inkatha was transformed into a political party in July 1990, championing federalism as the best political option for South Africa.

The IFP supports the government's Gear macroeconomic strategy, but argues that it has been introduced in too tentative and piecemeal a manner. The party argues for revitalising the economy through a "re-prioritisation" of economic policy, based on four pillars:

* attracting increased levels of direct fixed investment;
* facilitating the competitive development of business in South Africa;
* managing the high expectations and demand for social delivery; and
* introducing more cost-effective fiscal management in government.

The IFP also believes in integrating traditional leadership into the system of governance by recognising traditional communities as models of societal organisation. Buthelezi heads KwaZulu-Natal's House of Traditional Leaders, which advises the government on issues relating to traditional leaders.

Since the 1994 elections, members of the IFP have occupied Cabinet positions at national level. In KwaZulu-Natal, where it has a slight majority in the provincial legislature, it shares executive positions with the ANC.

United Democratic Movement website

United Democratic Movement
(Six seats in the National Assembly)
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) was formed in 1997 by Bantu Holomisa, who was expelled from the ANC after accusing a top party official of corruption. Holomisa, the former military strongman in the former homeland of the Transkei, teamed up with Roelf Meyer, a former Nationalist Party Cabinet minister, to form a new party. Meyer later left politics to pursue other interests.

The UDM sees itself as a contender for power with the ANC. Holomisa says his party is aiming to become an alternative government. His party campaigns around issues which it believes the government is handling badly.

Independent Democrats website

Independent Democrats
(Five seats in the National Assembly)
The Independent Democrats (ID) is South Africa's newest political party, formed in March 2003 under the leadership of Patricia de Lille. De Lille is a former trade unionist and a long-time member of and MP for the Pan Africanist Congress, which she left to form the ID. Her departure reduced the PAC's representation in parliament to two delegates.

De Lille has gained massive support for her forthright stand against corruption. A 2004 survey revealed her to be South Africa's favourite opposition politician.

With the motto "Back to Basics", the ID's policies are fairly centrist. The party is at one with the ANC on the economy, health and jobs, although De Lille outspokenly differs on HIV/Aids.

"We are not going to be branded communist, socialist or capitalist. We are going to be constitutionalists," De Lille said at the party's launch. The ID claims a signed-up membership of 13 000.

In the 2004 survey, De Lille was found to be the most trusted politician among coloured voters and was second favourite in the white and Indian communities. The ID is seen to have attracted former DA supporters, people disillusioned with that party's ill-fated alliance with the NNP.

African Christian Democratic Party website

African Christian Democratic Party
(Four seats in the National Assembly)
The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) was formed in December 1993 with the aim of representing South African Christians in parliament. It won two seats in 1994 and six in 1999.

The ACDP was the only party in the National Assembly that voted against the adoption of the Constitution in 1994, citing moral and Biblical objections to some of the document's clauses.

According to its manifesto, the ACDP stands for "Christian principles, freedom of religion, a free market economy, family values, community empowerment and human rights in a federal system". It and the Freedom Front Plus were the only parties unaffected by the September 2005 floor-crossing period.

Freedom Front Plus website

Freedom Front Plus
(Four seats in the National Assembly)
The Freedom Front was formed in 1993 by Constand Viljoen, the former chief of the SA Defence Force. Viljoen came out of retirement to lead a group of Afrikaners who wanted to form a political party.

As head of the Afrikaner Volksfront, Viljoen was instrumental in convincing conservative Afrikaners to participate in the new dispensation, through which, he argued, the issue of self determination should be taken up.

The new Freedom Front Plus, headed by Pieter Mulder, has four seats in the National Assembly and single provincial seats in Gauteng, the Free State, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape and North West. It and the African Christian Democratic Party were the only parties unaffected by the September 2005 floor-crossing period.

National Democratic Convention

National Democratic Convention
(Four seats in the National Assembly)
The National Democratic Convention (Nadeco) was formed in September 2005 during the parliamentary floor-crossing window period by four MPs who had defected from the IFP. It has therefore never actually contested an election. The party is headed by former IFP national chairperson Ziba Jiyane, who places an emphasis on "Christian values" and is said to have the support of former apartheid-era president FW de Klerk.

Pan Africanist Congress
(Three seats in the National Assembly)
The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was formed in 1959 as a breakaway from the ANC. Influenced by the Africanist ideals of Kwame Nkrumah, it promotes the return of the land to the indigenous people.

The PAC was outlawed with the ANC in 1960 after the Sharpeville massacre. Its leaders were exiled or detained for long periods. These included Robert Sobukwe, its founder and leader, who was incarcerated in Robben Island until 1969 and then placed under house arrest until his death in 1978.

The party's support has been steadily eroded since 1994, with voters favouring the ANC. Another blow was the 2003 defection of PAC MP Patricia de Lille to form her own party, the Independent Democrats.

United Christian Democratic Party website

United Christian Democratic Party
(Three seats in the National Assembly)
The United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP) was formed by Lucas Mangope, head of the apartheid-era "homeland" of Bophuthatswana. Mangope was among the first homeland leaders to accept so-called independence for his scattered country for the Setswana-speaking people. The UCDP was the only party allowed to operate in the territories under his control.

Minority Front
(Two seats in the National Assembly)
The Minority Front is led by the maverick Amichand Rajbansi, and claims to represent the interests of the Indian community. Apart from its two seats in the National Assembly, the party is also represented in the Durban metropolitan council.

Azapo website

Azanian People's Organisation
(One seat in the National Assembly)
The Azanian People's Organisation (Azapo) preaches the philosophy of black emancipation and black consciousness, a philosophy popularised by Steve Biko, who was killed in police cells in 1977.

Other parties
During the parliamentary floor-crossing period of September 2005, five new parties were formed, none of which have actually contested any election. Of these, Nadeco is the largest, with four seats in the National Assembly, followed by the United Independent Front, with two seats. New one-man-band parties are the Federation of Democrats, the United Party of South Africa and the Progressive Independent Movement, each with only one seat in the National Assembly.

SA Communist Party website

SA Communist Party
(Not officially represented in the National Assembly, but a number of its members occupy seats by virtue of their dual ANC membership)
The South African Communist Party (SACP) was relaunched as an underground party in 1953 after its predecessor, the Communist Party of South Africa, was banned in 1950.

Formed in 1921, the Communist Party of SA was predominantly white, but later on attracted black intellectuals, who in turn recruited black workers into its ranks. In 1946, one of its leading members, JB Marks, led 100 000 black miners in a strike that contributed to the party's banning in 1950.

The SACP has had a close working relationship with the ANC since the 1960s, when anti-apartheid organisations were forced to operate from exile. Members of both organisations held dual membership and served in the structures of both bodies.

The party's membership overlaps with those of the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), its partners in what is known as the tripartite alliance. It has significant representation in the ANC and government, from the executive down to local government structures.

The party believes in the establishment of a socialist society, which it says should be characterised by democracy, equality, freedom, and the socialisation of the predominant part of the economy.

The SACP and Cosatu have openly disagreed with the government's macroeconomic strategy, Gear, and the privatisation of state assets, arguing that the policy has failed to create jobs.

New National Party Western Cape website New National Party
The New National Party (NNP), formerly the Nationalist Party, ruled South Africa for the over 40 years of the apartheid era, from 1948 to 1994. The second-largest party after the first democratic elections in 1994, its voter base has since abandoned it in large numbers.

In the 1994 elections the NNP, led by FW de Klerk, gained 20% of the vote, making it the second largest party after the ANC. It also won a majority of votes in the Western Cape province, giving it control of the provincial legislature.

The NNP, along with the IFP, joined Nelson Mandela's government of national unity after the 1994 elections. De Klerk was one of two executive deputy presidents, the other being the ANC's Thabo Mbeki, and NNP members occupied important Cabinet positions. This ANC-NNP coalition also extended to the Western Cape, where the two parties shared executive posts.

The NNP, however, withdrew from the government of national unity in 1996, leaving the ANC and IFP as the only partners in Cabinet.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk took over the leadership of the NNP in 1997, at a time when the party was facing an organisational crisis as well as increasing defections to opposing parties.

After suffering heavy losses in the 1999 elections, the NNP joined forces with the DP and the Federal Alliance to form the Democratic Alliance in July 2000, making the NNP and DP the ruling coalition in the Western Cape.

Just over a year later, in October 2001, the NNP withdrew from the Democratic Alliance, throwing the Western Cape political situation into turmoil. The province is now controlled by the ANC.

In August 2004 the NNP's national executive took a unanimous decision to disband the party. Most of its former representatives now belong to the ANC.

The party's former leader, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, is now minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.