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South African law: Legal system

South African Government Gazettes

"National Government publishes the Government Gazette as a tool to communicate messages of national importance to the general public. It contains information of a legal, administrative and general nature. Government Gazettes are published as one of the following:

  • National Gazette
  • Regulation Gazette - This gazette contains information that government wishes to communicate specifically pertaining to regulations only.
  • Extraordinary Gazette - As part of daily administration of the country, specific matters of urgent or emergency nature may arise, which must be communicated to the public.

    Due to urgency, such matters may not be suitable to stand over until a Friday and subsequently are published as Extraordinary Gazettes. These gazettes are thus supplementary editions of the Government Gazette and are published any day of the week as and when required."

South Africa: quick facts

Modern South Africa is a democratic republic with a written constitution.

The South African Constitution Act  1996  took effect on 3 February 1997.

The President is both head of state and head of the executive. S/he is elected by the National Assembly from its own members.

The President, as head of the Cabinet, appoints the Deputy President and Ministers (from the ranks of the National Assembly), assigns their powers and functions, and may dismiss them.

The legislature is the National Parliament. It is bicameral, made up of

  • National Assembly, whose members are elected for a 5 year term by proportional representation and
  • National Council of Provinces, with ten representatives from each province, who vote as a block.

The Constitution allows the nine provinces of South Africa power to pass their own laws on certain subjects, but these laws must not conflict with national legislation.

Online research guide

Legal System

South Africa has a mixed legal system. Its doctrines and concepts are influenced both by the civilian tradition (in an uncodified Romano-Dutch form brought by early Dutch settlers) and by the common law tradition (introduced during the British colonial period). 

Indigenous people may still choose to be subject to customary law, so long as it does not conflict with the Constitution.

Chapter 8 (ss.165-180) of the Constitution, "Courts and Administration of Justice" sets out the structure of South Africa's court system and defines the role of each court.

Section 165 says the judicial authority of South Africa is vested in the courts, which are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law. Section 166 identifies these courts as:

  • the Constitutional Court;
  • the Supreme Court of Appeal; (1947-1996 predecessor was the Appellate Division)
  • the High Courts;
  • the Magistrates' Courts;
  • and any other court established or recognised by an Act of parliament.