South Africa: Delimitation of constituencies and voting districts
Reviewed April 2019
Constituencies and seat allocation
The Constitution is vague on how the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures are to be constituted. As far as the National Assembly is concerned it specifies only that it must consist of between 350 and 400 members elected in terms of national legislation by voters 18 years or older on a common voters role through an electoral system that "results, in general, in proportional representation"; the details of the electoral system to meet these criteria are left to an Act of Parliament (Constitution 1996, 46). Similarly provincial legislatures are each to be composed of between 30 and 80 members elected by the voters on each province's segment of the national voters' roll through an electoral system that "results, in general, in proportional representation"; again the details of the electoral system to meet these criteria are left to an Act of Parliament (Constitution 1996, 105). The Act of Parliament referred to in these two articles is the Electoral Act of 1998, which specifies in Schedule 1A that members of the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures are to be elected by proportional representation from lists submitted by parties to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
In the case of the National Assembly half the members are elected from a single national constituency from national lists submitted by the parties and the other half from the nine provinces, each acting as a constituency, from provincial lists submitted by the parties (Electoral Act 1998, Schedule 1A, 2). The Electoral Act (1998, Schedule 1A, 2(a)) specifies that the number of the seats allocated to each constituency (province) is to determined by the IEC for each election by "taking into account available scientifically based data in respect of voters and representations by interested parties". In practice the IEC has consistently allocated 200 seats for the national constituency and distributed 200 seats between the provincial constituencies on the basis of the proportion of voters registered in each province for that election, as illustrated in the table below.
National Assembly seat allocation by constituency 1999-2019
Government Gazette 1999; Faure 1999; IEC 2004a; IEC 2009a, IEC 2014; IEC 2019.
As far as provincial legislatures are concerned the Electoral Act (1998, Schedule 1A, 12) treats each province as a single constituency and each party submits a single list for each province. The number of seats allocated to each provincial legislature by the IEC did not change between 1999 and 2009 and is given in the table below. The most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal, has the maximum number of seats the IEC may allocate, in terms of the Constitution, and the more lightly populated provinces, the Northern Cape, the Free State and Mpumalanga, the minimum number.
Allocation of seat for provincial legislatures 1999-2019
In short, since only Parliament can change the boundaries of the provinces, and then only by amendment of the Constitution, the delimitation of constituencies is Parliament's work and the IEC's role is to reallocate seats accordingly (Constitution 1996, 103).
Extracted from: Susan Booysen & 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, 404-405.
Seats in the National Assembly are allocated according to a proportional representation system, and there is this no need for the demarcation of constituencies. (Wards are demarcated for the purpose of the part of local government elections that are based on geographical areas.) However, for administrative electoral purposes, boundaries do play a role in South Africa's national and provincial elections. Sections 60-67 of the Electoral Act deal with the establishment of voting districts and voting stations.
In the 1994 elections, before more advanced arrangements were effected, 800 magisterial districts were used for basic organisational purposes in preparing the elections. Within these districts voters were permitted to vote at any of the more than 9 000 fixed voting stations nationally, with 950 additional mobile voting stations used in less accessible and low-density population areas. The 1994 elections did not require voter registration; therefore voters were not required to vote at a particular voting station. Furthermore, the boundaries of the nine provinces, when assessed for their relative population proportions, became the most significant electoral boundaries in the 1994 elections. These boundaries were established by a Regional Demarcation Commission (RDC) in May 1993. The RDC conducted its work with the help of public hearings. Although some sensitive border areas were given assurances that they would be re-evaluated based on their experiences during the elections, subsequent to the 1994 elections, the provincial boundaries have remained virtually the same as those originally devised by the RDC. The only requirement for eligibility to vote in the 1994 elections was that a person could prove that s/he was a permanent resident in South Africa.
The 1999 elections introduced the use of a voters' roll, meaning that new electoral districts had to be devised in order to administer the registration process and the voters' roll. Voters were required to cast their ballots at the polling station where they had registered. The IEC made use of a high-tech satellite-linked electronic mapping system to devise more than 12 000 electoral districts, each intended to accommodate roughly 3 000 voters in urban areas and 200 in rural districts. The voting stations were positioned in such a way that no voter should have had to travel more than 10 km to cast her/his ballot. The voting districts had no political significance apart from logistical and administrative considerations, and no political parties objected to the mapping process.
The responsibility of delimiting the entire geography of South Africa into voting districts is the responsibility of the Delimitation Directorate (DD), using a satellite mapping system and any census information available to do so [see Delimitation process and voting stations for details]. The DD, which is part of the IEC, reviews the districts prior to each election (IEC 4004b). Since 2001, GPS technology has been employed to accurately record the positions of voting stations [see Delimitation process and GIS for details]. The 14 650 voting districts of 1999 increased to 16 966 in 2004, and 19 726 in 2009 (IEC 2009b, 45). The increase related to increases in the number of registered voters, population migration, and improvements in voter access to voting facilities. About two-thirds of voting stations are located at schools.
Municipal ward delimitation
The Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB; http://www.demarcation.org.za/) is reponsible for the delimitation of wards for local government elections in consultation with communities and other stakeholders (MDB 2010, 1). Ward delimitation for the 2011 local government elections began on 15 July 2009 and was completed on 1 September 2011 when the delimitation was handed over to the IEC (MDB 2010, 1). See also Local elections ward delimitation and seat allocation 2000-2011 and 2011 Local elections metropolitan seat allocations.
CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF SA 1996, [www]http://www.gov.za/documents/constitution/Constitution-Republic-South-Africa-1996-1 (accessed 18 May 2019).
ELECTORAL ACT 73 1998, includes amendments of 2000 and 2003, [www] http://www.elections.org.za/content/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=989 (accessed 18 May 2019).
FAURE, M 1999 "The Electoral System Issue in South African Politics" IN KAF, February.
GOVERNMENT GAZETTE 1999, No 19934, 8 April.
INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IEC) 2004a "Seat Calculation: Electoral Event: 14 Apr 2004 National Election".
INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IEC) 2004b "Overview of Delimitation and Voting Stations".
INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IEC) 2009a "Seat Calculation: Electoral Event: 22 Apr 2004 National Election".
INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IEC) 2009b "Elections 2009 - to the future", Information brochure, Pretoria.
INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IEC) 2014 "2014 National and Provincial Elections: National results".
INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IEC) 2019 "NPE Seat Calculation Process".
MUNICIPAL DEMARCATION BOARD (MDB; http://www.demarcation.org.za/) 2010 "Municipal Demarcation Board hands over municipal ward for the 2011 local government elections".