Parliament of South Africa

From Academic Kids

The Parliament of South Africa, has undergone many transformations, as a result of the country's tumultuous history. From 1910 to 1994, it was elected mainly by South Africa's white minority, before the first non-racial elections were held in 1994.

Under the 1994 Constitution, the Parliament, consisting of a Senate and a National Assembly, was also the 'Constitution-Making Body' (CMB). This was a compromise between the African National Congress, which wanted a Constituent Assembly to draft the constitution, and the other parties, who wanted constitutional principles agreed first, before the final constitution was drafted and adopted in 1997. Under the 1997 Constitution, the Senate, elected by members of each of the nine Provincial Legislatures, was replaced by a National Council of Provinces, or (NCoP), which retained the former Senate's membership, although changed its legislative and constitutional role. The National Assembly remained unchanged as the primary legislative chamber, with the President of South Africa being the leader of the largest party in that house.



The Union

When the Union of South Africa was established in 1910, the Parliament was bicameral and consisted of the Senate and the House of Assembly (known in Afrikaans as the Volksraad). The Senate was indirectly elected by members of each of the four Provincial Councils, and the members of the House of Assembly being elected mainly by whites.


When the National Party came to power on a policy of racial segregation or apartheid, it began to push through controversial legislation to deprive non-whites of what few political rights they already had. In 1959, the government of Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd passed legislation to strip the mixed race Coloureds of their voting rights. In order to amend entrenched clauses in the Union's Constitution, there needed to be a two-thirds majority in favour in both Houses of Parliament. As the National party did not have a majority in the Senate, Verwoerd instead increased its membership, appointing a large number of Senators who duly voted for the changes. In anticipation of a referendum on making South Africa a republic, Verwoerd also lowered the voting age for whites from 21 to 18. When a referendum was held on October 5, 1960, 52 per cent of whites voted in favour of a republic.

The creation of the Republic of South Africa did not change the role of the Parliament, which remained whites-only, and dominated by the National Party, although the mace used in the House of Assembly, featuring a British Crown, was replaced by a new South African design, and portraits of the British Royal Family were removed.

Tricameral Parliament

In 1980, Prime Minister P.W Botha announced plans for constitutional reform. The Senate was abolished in 1981, and a new 'President's Council' was appointed to advise on a new Constitution, under which Coloureds and Asians would be represented. The Council was chaired by a Vice State President, Mr Alwyn Schlebusch, who would be the only person to hold the post. Its membership was composed of whites, Coloureds and Asians (including a Chinese member as well as Indians), but the black majority had no representation at all.

Under the 1984 Constitution, the House of Assembly, elected by whites only, became one of three Houses of Parliament, the other two being the House of Representatives, elected by the mixed race Coloureds and the House of Delegates, elected by Asians. Each House had a Ministers' Council, responsible for 'own affairs', but the white-controlled President's Council could override any decisions made by Coloured and Asian leaders.

The black majority were still disenfranchised, and the new system lacked legitimacy even among the Coloureds and Asians, many of whom boycotted elections. In 1994, one of the last pieces of legislation passed by the tricameral parliament was Act 200 of 1994 - the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa - before the first non-racial elections were held on April 27 that year.

Cape Town or Pretoria?

Parliament sits in Cape Town, even though the seat of government is in Pretoria. This dates back to the foundation of the Union, when there was disagreement between the four provinces as to which city would be the national capital. As a compromise, Cape Town was designated the legislative capital, Bloemfontein the judicial capital, and Pretoria the administrative capital. The African National Congress (ANC) government has proposed moving Parliament to Pretoria, arguing that the present arrangement is cumbersome as ministers, civil servants and diplomats must move back and forth when Parliament is in session. However, many Capetonians have spoken out against such a move, accusing the ANC of trying to centralise power, even though Cape Town is already the capital of the Western Cape province. Under the Constitution, there is provision for Parliament meeting outside Cape Town should the Speaker of the National Assembly see fit.

External Link

Parliament of South Africa (


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