South Africa: Party registration, election contestation and representation trends

Extracted from: Susan Booysen and Grant Masterson 2009 "Chapter 11: South Africa" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 408.

The number of political parties in South Africa has increased over the years, from around 70 in the late 1990s, to 146 in late March 2008 and 157 in September 2008 (Tlakula 2009), dropping to 156 just before the 2009 election. Of the 146 parties of March 2008, 101 were registered at the national level and 45 at municipal level (Electoral Commission 2008, 39). The reasons for the high number of parties include the fact that it is easy and inexpensive to start a political party (Booysen, 2009). Unrepresented parties are required to renew their annual registration before 31 January of the particular year (Electoral Commission Act No. 51 of 1995, Chapter 4, Section 15(6)).

The number of registered political parties in South Africa thus continuously fluctuates, and the number of registered parties is also far larger than the number of contesting and represented parties [the IEC set very high candidate nomination list fees in 2009 to discourage frivolous participation by the ever growing number of political parties in national and provincial elections (see Nomination of candidates)]. To illustrate the three-way discrepancy between registered, participating and represented political parties, at the time of the 2009 elections there were:

  • 156 registered political parties (118 registered on national level. Electoral Commission Undated);
  • 40 parties in total participating in elections (national and provincial);
  • 26 parties contesting national elections;
  • 13 parties winning representation in the National Assembly, two of them, Cope and the APC, were first-time election contestants;
  • 9 represented parties in the National Assembly winning 1 per cent or less of the national vote (the comparative figures in the preceding three elections were 8 in 1994, 12 in 1999 and 11 in 2004); and
  • 4 parties only in the National Assembly race winning more than 4 per cent of the national vote.

The following numbers of political parties contested for representation in the nine provincial legislatures in April 2009: 17 in the Eastern Cape, 14 in the Free State, 20 in Gauteng, 17 in KwaZulu-Natal, 18 in Limpopo, 15 in Mpumalanga, 16 in North West, 13 in Northern Cape, and 22 in the Western Cape (Electoral Commission 2009, 72). A fraction of them won representation in the provincial legislatures.


BOOYSEN, S 2009 "South Africa: Political Parties and Political Participation", For the Konrad Adenhauer Stiftung (KAS) Democracy Report 2009, Bonn, KAS.

ELECTORAL COMMISSION 2009 Elections 2009 - to the future, information brochure, Pretoria, IEC.

ELECTORAL COMMISSION ACT NO 51 OF 1996, [www] [opens new window] (accessed 9 Mar 2010).

TLAKULA, P 2009 "Launch of Electoral Commission 2009 election logo", speech on 17 September 2009.