South Africa: Women's representation quotas

Updated April 2009

Legal quotas

The Constitution of South Africa (1996) lays down in Article 1 the fundamental values on which the Republic is founded and includes among these non-sexism. The equality clause of the constitution includes a provisor that is aimed at ensuring substantive rather than merely formal equality: "Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken." (1996, Article 9.2.). Though the Constitution does not specify those who have been disadvantaged by unfair discrimination the South African courts have interpreted it to include women.

The Constitution does not provide for quotas to ensure adequate representation of women in elected public bodies, nor are any legal quotas established for national or provincial elections. The Local Government: Municipal Structures Act (1998, 11. (3)) specifies that, as far as councillors elected by proportional representation from party lists, "Every party must seek to ensure that fifty per cent of the candidates on the party list are women and that women and men candidates are evenly distributed through the list". However, as the Global Database of Quotas for Women (2006) points out: "There is no penalty if this is not adhered to".

Party quotas

Local government

Despite the absence of effective quota legislation, at local government level women's representation in local government has climbed steadily from 19% in after the 1995 elections to 29.6% after the 2000 local elections to 40% after the 2006 elections (Letsholo & Nkwinika 2006, 21; Chikulo & Mbao 2006, 54; Letsholo 2006, 12). In South Africa half the local government councilors are elected from single member wards by plurality and the other half by proportional representation from party lists (see Municipal structures and balloting).

The rising levels of women's representation in local government is largely attributable to the ruling African National Congress's (ANC) commitment to a minimal 30% quota for the representation of women at all levels since 1994 (Williams 2006, 36; Global Database of Quotas for Women 2006). In the run-up to the 2006 election, moreover, the ANC committed itself to attaining gender parity at the local government level (Williams 2006, 36; Letsholo 2006, 12). This proved to be an ambitious goal that provoked practical difficulties as well as resistance within the party, for as Sydney Letsholo (2006, 12) notes: "It became a bone of contention with some members of the ANC, the male counterparts in particular, were suspicious that this quota policy would result in the loss of their positions" (see also Williams 2006, 35 and Mottiar 2006, 43). In the end the ANC was only partially successful, with some provinces meeting or exceeding the quota (Northern Cape, Gauteng and the North West) and others falling far short (Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal), but overall a figure of 46.1% was achieved (Mbeki 2006). Meeting the parity goal proved to be easier on the party proportional representation lists than in securing the election of women as ward representatives for only 40% of ANC women councilors were elected from wards (Mbeki 2006). The national figures for all parties show the same trend, though a marked increase in the proportion of women candidates is also discernable (see table below).

National Representation of Women
at the Local Government Level

Year PR List Ward
2006 43% 37%
2000 38% 17%
1995/6 28% 11%

Table source: Letsholo 2006, 12.

Though other political parties did not adopt voluntary quotas, the moral suasion exercised by the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, the example set by the ANC and a national campaign to improve women's representation was not without effect on them for, as Chikulo & Mbao (2006, 54) note, "indications are that political parties have heeded the SALGA [South African Local Government Association] "50/50 - get the balance right" campaign launched in mid-2005 which campaigned vigorously for the inclusion of more women in local government. Consequently, there has been a significant increase in women candidature representation in the lists for the March 2006 elections. The ruling ANC leads the pack with a clear 50 percentage equal representation of both women and men, whilst the majority of other parties have also increased the number of women in the lists".

National Assembly and provincial legislatures

Voluntary party quotas, combined with a proportional representation electoral system, have played a significant role in improving women's representation at national and provincial levels (Kethusegile-Juru 2002, 5). After South Africa's first democratic election in 1994 women formed 27.75% of members of the National Assembly, in 1999 it was 30%, in 2004 32.75% and in 2009 it reached 43% (see Women's representation in the National Assembly). Provincial legislatures followed a similar pattern; 24% women's representation in 1994, 27% in 1999, 32.3%, in 2004 and 41% in 2009 (Hendricks 2005, 81; Morna et al 2009, 17). There was, however, considerable variation between the provinces in 2004, with six attaining or surpassing 30% - Gauteng (42.4%), Northern Cape (37%), Limpopo (33%), Northwest (33%), Eastern Cape (31.7%), Mpumalanga (30%) - and three under 30% - Western Cape (28.5%), KwaZulu-Natal (26.2%), Free State (26%). In 2009 there were no provinces under 35%, with representation of women varying between a high of 49% for Limpopo and a low of 36% for kwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape (Morna et al 2009, 17).

The ANC, as mentioned above, was committed to a 30% quota for women's representation in elective bodies since 1994. In practice when drawing up the party lists of candidates for the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures, the tendency was to ensure that at least every third person on the list was a woman, securing at least a 33.3% representation of women (Kethusegile-Juru 2002, 7). In practice, as far as the National Assembly was concerned, it exceeded this standard even, producing a women's representation rate of 35.7% in 1994 and 1999 and 37.3% in 2004 (Hendricks 2005, 82). At the ANC Conference in Polekwane the ANC adopted the principle of parity in gender representation and in it's manifesto for the 2009 election the ANC committed itself to "increase women representation in parliament and government to 50% by 2009", which was substantially achieved as far as the National Assembly was concerned, for 49.2% of ANC members were women (ANC 2009; Morna et al 2009, 11). The overwhelming dominance of the ANC in the National Assembly, combined with this commitment to women's representation ensured the sizeable representation of women in the body from its inception. On a provincial level in 2009, 48.3% of the ANC seats in the provincial legislatures were occupied by women (Morna et al 2009, 16).

None of the opposition parties committed themselves to quotas for women's representation, but the proportion of opposition women representatives rose rapidly, albeit from a low base; in 1994 the proportion was 14.2%, in 1999 it was 18.7%, in 2004 to 22.3% and in 2009 it reached 30.9% (Hendricks 2005, 81; Morna et al 2009, 11). Of special significance in terms of its effect on overall levels has been the rapid increase in the number of seats held by the Democratic Alliance (DA, formerly Democratic Party; 7 seats in 1994 to 67 seats in 2004) along with a steady increase in the proportion of its women's representatives from 14.3% in 1994 to 29.9% in 2009 (Hendricks 2005, 81; Morna et al 2009, 11). In late 2008 the Congress of the People was formed by defectors from the ANC who carried with them a commitment to gender parity in political representation: "COPE is committed to the AU 50/50 gender parity resolution in all public structures" (COPE 2009, 27). Accordingly 50% of the new party's representatives to the National Assembly in 2009 were women and, since it was the third largest party in the National Assembly, the overall proportion of women from opposition parties was significantly boosted (Morna et al 2009, 11).

As far as smaller parties are concerned, in 2004 44.4% of United Democratic Movement (UDM) representatives were women, but this fell to 0% in 2009, as were 33.3% of African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) representatives, which rose to 30.9% in 2009, and 43% of the Independent Democrats (ID), which fell to 25% in 2009 (Hendricks 2005, 81; Morna et al 2009, 11). Many small parties returned no women to the National Assembly in 2004, notably the New National Party (now defunct), the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), the United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP) and the Pan African Congress (PAC) (Hendricks 2005, 81). In 2009 the FF+, PAC, the Minority Front, AZAPO and the new African People's Convention returned no women to the National Assembly (Morna et al 2009, 11). However, in 2009 the UACP increased it share for women from 0% to 50% between 2004 and 2009, while the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) increased from 18.5% to 22.2% in the same period (Morna et al 2009, 11).

Party leadership quotas

Until 2007 the ANC Constitution (1997, Rule 14.1) required "a quota of at least one-third (1/3) in all its structures to enable such effective participation". At the 52nd National Congress held in Polekwane in 2007 this was amended to increase the quota to parity (Zuma 2007). Consequently, 50% of the people elected to the National Executive Committee at the Congress were women, as were 50% of the members of the National Working Committee. When COPE was formed in 2008, the Constitution that it adopted mandated that "The representation of women in each of these structure of the Congress of the People shall at all times not be less than 50% of the members, of each structure respectively" (COPE 2008a, article 22.7). Half of the party's office bearers are women, including one of the two deputy presidents, as are 16 of the 33 additional Working Committee members (COPE 2008b).

The other opposition parties have no quotas and particular representation of women is restricted to delegates from the women's wing forming part of party leadership structures at various levels. The DA's Federal Constitution (2002), the Constitution of the IFP (2006), the ID Constitution (2003), the Constitution of the UCDP (Undatedb) and the Constitution of the UDM (2001) are the same in this respect. Two of the eight national leaders of the DA in 2009 were women (including the party leader) and only one of the nine provincial leaders (DA 2009a; DA 2009b). Two of the six leaders of the ID were women in 2009, as was one of eight provincial leaders (ID Undated). Two of the UDM's 11 natioan leaders were women (UDM Undated), while all the provincial leaders and members of the Executive Management of the FF+ were men in 2007 (FF+ 2007). Five of the 14 national leaders of the UCDP were women (UCDP Undated).


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