There are three forms an NGO can take on in South Africa: a voluntary association, a charitable trust or a non-profit company. Of these, a non-profit company is the most formal type of registration in that it comes with the most administrative obligations.
The legislation (external rules) that governs a non-profit company is the Companies Act, 2008. Previously, it was the Companies Act, 1973, under which non-profit companies were known as "section 21 companies". However, we now refer to them as non-profit companies (NPC for short).
The authority that oversees the formation and regulation of NPCs is the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).
To register a NPC, you need a minimum of three incorporators (who may also be the directors), who do not break any of the rules in section 69 of the Companies Act. They will be required to sign all the documents needed to register the NPC. This includes the document setting out the NPC's internal rules, and is known as a Memorandum of Incorporation (MOI for short) or "founding document".
You will also be able to choose whether or not you would like your NPC to have members. These are the people who participate in the activities of the NPC. Examples of such members may be members of a church or pension fund. In most cases, NPCs only have directors and no members.
You could pay a company secretarial company to register your NPC, or you could create a profile for yourself on the CIPC website and do it yourself. At the time of writing, the following costs apply and you need to deposit them into your CIPC user account before proceeding with the registration application:
R125 to register a NPC without a name reservation
R175 to register a company with a name reservation
What is a name registration?
The CIPC has a list (they call it a "register") of the names of every single for profit, and non-profit, company in South Africa. Each of these has to have a unique name, meaning that you are not allowed to register a NPC if an NPC with the same name already exists. This is why you need to reserve a name in advance, so that the CIPC can check if any existing NPC already has it. Here is more information about reserving a name.
Once you have registered the name, you can proceed with the next steps, which include submission of the following documents:
Notice of Incorporation (known as form CoR14.1)
List of first directors of the NPC (known as form CoR14.1A)
Memorandum of Incorporation (short-form, no members, known as form CoR15.1C)
In addition to these, you will need to submit the following documents:
If you had to reserve a name for your NPC, you will receive a confirmation notice (known as form CoR9.4), which needs to accompany your application
a certified copy of the identity document of each incorporator and/or first director or a certified copy of their passport, if s/he is a foreign national (tip: you can have copies certified at any police station - just take a copy and the original ID/ passport)
if you are applying on behalf of the directors, then they need to authorise you to do so. This is known as a power of attorney.
You can also visit the CIPC website for step-by-step instructions.