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Emerging legislature or rubber stamp?
The South African National Assembly after ten years of democracy1


CSSR Working Paper No. 134

Joel Barkan

Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR)

November 2005

SARPN acknowledges permission from the Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR) to post this document - www.cssr.uct.ac.za
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Abstract

This paper examines the role of the South African National Assembly in comparative perspective by discussing the experience of the Assembly since 1994 in comparison to the development of legislative institutions elsewhere in Africa. The paper thus begins with an overview of seven sets of variables that seem to drive the process of legislative development across the continent, and then turns to the South African case. The “conventional wisdom” (CW) on the National Assembly—usually by observers who have spent little time at Parliament—is that the body is little more than a rubber stamp of the ruling African National Congress. The paper explores the validity of this view concluding that it is not inaccurate—to a degree. The combination of ANC’s supra majority, its organisational culture and modus operandi, and South Africa’s system of proportional representation all reduce the independence of the legislature. The paper then examines five dimensions of the legislative process and argues that the CW reflects only part of the reality. The National Assembly is not a mere rubber stamp. More interesting from a theoretical perspective, the same variables that facilitate or undermine the emergence of the legislature as an institution of countervailing power elsewhere in Africa, apply to the South African case as well.


Footnotes:
  1. This paper is based mainly on interviews conducted with 36 Members of Parliament and staff of the South African National Assembly between April 28th and June 7th, 2004. The author wishes to acknowledge the financial and logistical support of the Democracy in Africa Research Unit of the Centre for Social Science Research at the University of Cape Town for making this study possible. The study is limited to a consideration of the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament of South Africa.


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