Political rights since 1994 Focus: It’s my party (and I’ll do what I want to)?: Internal party democracy and section 19 of the South African Constitution

Authors Pierre de Vos

ISSN: 1996-2126
Affiliations: Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance, Department of Public Law, University of Cape Town
Source: South African Journal on Human Rights, Volume 31 Issue 1, 2015, p. 30 – 55


South Africa’s democracy has both representative and participatory elements. The participatory aspect of democracy enhances the civic dignity of citizens by empowering them to take part in decisions that affect their lives. However, the overbearing role that political parties play in the South African democracy runs the risk of limiting the ability of citizens to participate effectively in decisions that impact on their lives. This is because the leaders of political parties (especially of governing parties) may wield enormous power and influence inside their respective parties and in the legislature and executive. Where the ordinary members of parties have little or no direct say about the formulation of the policies of the party they belong to or the election of its leaders or those who will stand for election as public representatives at national and provincial level, the ability of such members to participate in democratic processes and decisions are limited. To facilitate the participation of party members in the activities of a political party to ensure the enhancement of their civic dignity s 19(1)(b) of the Constitution guarantees the right of every citizen freely to make political choices, including the right to participate in the activities of, or recruit members for, a political party. In Ramakatsa v Magashule the majority of the Constitutional Court affirmed the importance of the right of party members to participate freely in the activities of the political party they belong to and also found that the constitutions of political parties have to ensure this happens. Provisions of a political party’s constitution can be declared invalid if it fails to comply with the provisions of the Bill of Rights (including s 19(1)(b)). This article contends that Ramakatsa can be interpreted to place a positive duty on the legislature to pass a ‘party law’ that sets minimum requirements to protect the democratic participation of party members in the activities of the party — including about the formulation of party policies, the election of party office bearers and the selection of the party’s candidates for election as public representatives.