Chapter 5

The President and National Executive

The National Executive consists of the President, the Deputy President and ministers. The President can exercise no power not conferred by law and the exercise of that power must be rational, which has been interpreted by legal experts to mean that the President must act rationally when appointing or dismissing members of Cabinet.

The President is both head of state and head of the National Executive, which some critics claim is an uncomfortable arrangement, as it does not allow the incumbent to rise above party politics. The President must be elected at the first sitting of the National Assembly (NA) and serves a term of five years. No President may serve more than two terms. 

To impeach the President, the NA needs the support of at least two-thirds of its members. The President can be impeached on the grounds of serious violations of the Constitution or the law, serious misconduct such as stealing public funds, or the inability to perform his/her duties. A motion of no confidence in the Cabinet, excluding the President, can be passed by a majority in the NA and thereafter the President must then reconstitute the Cabinet. If the NA passes a motion of no confidence in the President, then the President and the Cabinet must resign.

Presidential powers include:

  • signing bills passed by Parliament; 
  • referring bills back to Parliament or to the Constitutional Court; 
  • summoning Parliament to extraordinary sittings; 
  • making appointments that the Constitution or another law requires; 
  • appointing commissions of inquiry; 
  • appointing and receiving diplomatic representatives; 
  • pardoning offenders; and
  • conferring honours.

Presidential responsibilities include:

  • selecting and appointing the Deputy President and the ministers in the Cabinet;
  • appointing deputy ministers to assist the Ministers of the Cabinet; and
  • dismissing any of these people he or she has appointed.

While Cabinet ministers are responsible for the powers and functions assigned to them by the President, they are accountable to Parliament and must provide ‘full and regular’ reports about matters under their control. The Cabinet is responsible for implementing national legislation; developing and implementing national policy; co-ordinating the functions of state departments and preparing and initiating legislation. It also has the power to intervene in provincial administration if the province does not fulfil its obligations in terms of all legislation or the Constitution.

Cabinet responsibilities include:

  • implementing national legislation; 
  • developing and implementing national policy; 
  • co-ordinating the functions of state departments;
  • preparing and initiating legislation.


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994