The value of political party constitutions in managing conflict within political parties: Heradien v Meshoa and Others

This article discusses the significance of the Heradien v Meshoa and Others (768/024) [2024] ZAWCHC 37 (13 February 2024) judgment. In this matter, Mr Heradien approached the High Court to, among other things, review and set aside his termination and interdict the IEC from filling the vacancy in the municipal council with Mr Nel as the ICOSA proportional representation (PR) councillor.

This case demonstrates the importance of party constitutions in preserving discipline within parties and highlights the responsibility of senior party members in overseeing their enforcement. It suggests that party constitutions serve as a vital mechanism for sustaining discipline and cohesion within parties. In the context of coalition governments, party constitutions also play an important role in regulating party behaviour, managing intra-party conflict, and promoting cooperation.

The role of senior party members in political parties

Senior leaders within political parties bear the responsibility to effectively manage conflict within their parties and coalition governments they are part of. Political parties are governed by a set of internal rules and procedures, typically outlined in their party constitutions. Senior party members are responsible for ensuring compliance and enforcing the provisions of their constitutions within their parties.  The effective exercise of this responsibility is crucial in resolving disputes and maintaining party discipline, which is vital for maintaining stability within political parties. As demonstrated by this judgment, during periods of political instability, enforcing and maintaining party discipline can become challenging due to internal conflicts among party members. In such scenarios, factions may arise within parties, challenging the authority of senior members and questioning the legitimacy of internal party structures that confer authority on them.

The challenge of intra-party conflict within the ICOSA political party

ICOSA is a small political party that is a key coalition partner of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Garden Route District Municipality. The party dominates in Kannaland Local Municipality, where it controls 3 out of 7 council seats. Since the 2021 Local Government Elections, there have been growing calls for the party to get its house in order and remove its president, Jeffrey Donson, who has been convicted of rape. To mitigate any further reputational harm that may come to the party because of the conduct of its president, a faction emerged within the political party to get rid of the founder and president of the party, Jeffrey Donson. This resulted in both Donson and his son, former executive mayor of Oudtshoorn Local Municipality, being suspended on 5 October 2023 after action was taken by the party’s Western Cape division. However, their suspensions were quickly lifted, after which the senior party leaders from the Western Cape Division of ICOSA were subsequently suspended. This created internal conflict, with certain members within the political party, including Mr Heradien (the applicant), not recognising the legitimacy of the ICOSA national structure, which is headed by Jeffrey Donson and his son.

Heradien’s failure to pay the monthly councillor contribution

In this matter, it was alleged that Mr Heradien failed to pay his membership fees into the bank account of ICOSA’s national executive committee (NEC). Mr Heradien denied the allegation, stating pay that he paid his monthly contributions to the Western Cape Division of ICOSA, which he recognised as the only legitimate structure of the party. As a result of his failure to pay his membership fees to the party’s NEC, his membership was terminated automatically according to the party’s constitution.

Automatic termination clauses in party constitutions

Clause of ICOSA’s constitution states that a member ceases to be a member of ICOSA when he fails to renew his membership on or before the date determined by the NEC. Clause 3.3.2 of the constitution further states that a member who ceases to be a member of ICOSA, loses all privileges of party membership and loses the office which he occupies under his membership, with immediate effect. Thus, Heradien’s membership was terminated by operation of law as the provisions were triggered because of his failure to pay his monthly contributions and renew his membership as required by ICOSA’s constitution. For this reason, Heradien automatically ceased to be a member of ICOSA by virtue of clause of ICOSA’s constitution. Thus, no decision was taken by the party which in effect closed the door for Mr Heradien to have his termination as PR councillor of ICOSA reviewed and set aside. For this reason, the Court refused to grant the interdict sought by Mr Heradien, which aimed to, inter alia, restrain ICOSA from allowing him to serve as an ICOSA PR Councillor in the municipal council of Witzenberg Local Municipality.


This case highlights the importance of party constitutions as a crucial conflict management device, especially during times when conflict involves senior party members and threatens their ability to instill and maintain discipline among their members. Party constitutions are particularly useful when they incorporate automatic termination clauses that operate independently of any decision-making process but are triggered by the conduct of the party member. In such instances, political parties can be shielded from further litigation and potential adverse findings, which may arise if decisions are subject to review and set aside. Therefore, the inclusion of broad provisions in party constitutions to regulate conduct, such as disloyalty to the party or refusal to comply with decisions or instructions of legitimate party structures, can lead to improved cooperation within political parties.

By Jennica Beukes, Legal practitioner and Doctoral Researcher

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