South Africa: Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act

Glenda Fick, October 1998

Note: See also Political party funding


The Constitution of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996, came into effect on 4 February 1997. This Constitution provides the framework for representative democracy in South Africa. Under the final Constitution, the most direct way of ensuring multi-party democracy in the South African democratic order is through elections. Elections provide the opportunity to the political parties to represent the interests of the electorate. Section 42(3) of the Constitution provides that the National Assembly is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the Constitution. Other provisions of the Constitution also seek to achieve representative democracy through elections. These are discussed below.

Section 1(a) of the Constitution stipulates that the Republic of South Africa is founded on the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. Section 1(b) provides that South Africa is founded on non-racialism and non-sexism, while section 1 (d) recognises universal adult suffrage, a national common voters' roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.

These Founding Provisions have a profound and direct impact on elections in South Africa, as they determine the parameters of the form of democracy to be achieved in South Africa. They must be given serious consideration by all South Africans, the various state organs, political parties and the constitutionally established institutions supporting democracy. These are the Human Rights Commission, the Commission on Gender Equality and the Electoral Commission.

The Constitution seeks to give effect to the values enshrined in founding provisions through the Bill of Rights contained in Chapter 2 of Constitution. Non-racialism and non-sexism are protected through the provisions of section 9 of the Constitution - the right to equality. It cannot be denied that if an election is to be truly free and fair, the right to equality is essential. It is this right which prevents the disenfranchisement of people on arbitrary grounds including race, sex, and gender. Section 9 of the Constitution provides, 'Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection of and benefit of the law' (s 9(1)).

The Constitution's commitment to furthering multi-party democracy may also be witnessed in s 19(1)(a) which provides that [e]very citizen is free to make political choices, which include the right to form a political party; to participate in the activities of, or recruit members for, a political party; and to campaign for a political party or cause. This right must be read together with s 15 (freedom of conscience and opinion) s 16 (freedom of expression), s 17 (freedom of assembly) and s 18 (freedom of association).

A further constitutional provision highly pertinent to elections is section 236 which provides '[t]o enhance multi-party democracy, national legislation must provide for the funding of political parties participating in national and provincial legislatures on an equitable and proportional basis'.

Against this constitutional background, the Promotion of Multi-Party Democracy Bill was introduced in 1997. This Bill was later passed as the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act 103 of 1997. The implications of the Act are discussed below.


CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF SA 1996, [www] [opens new window, incorporates all amendments until 13th Ammendment (2007)] Act No. 108 of 1996; 14-16 Amendments available at [opens new window] (accessed 16 Jul 2016); approved by Constitutional Court December 4, 1996; took effect February 4, 1997; amended 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003 (accessed 26 Feb 2010).

PUBLIC FUNDING OF REPRESENTED POLITICAL PARTIES ACT 103 1997, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 26 Feb 2010).