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Parliament of South Africa

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Parliament of South Africa

Parliament of the Republic of South Africa
26th South African Parliament
Coat of arms or logo
Houses National Assembly
National Council of Provinces
Baleka MbeteANC
since 21 May 2014
Thandi ModiseANC
since 22 May 2014
Seats 490
400 NA
Political groups
Last election
7 May 2014
Meeting place
Houses of Parliament (Cape Town).jpg
Houses of Parliament, Cape Town, Western Cape, Republic of South Africa
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
South Africa
Foreign relations

The Parliament of South Africa is South Africa's legislature and under the country's current Constitution is composed of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.[1]

It 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 elections with universal suffrage were held in 1994.


Before 1910

The predecessor of the Parliament of South Africa, before the 1910 Union of South Africa, was the bicameral Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope. This was composed of the House of Assembly (the lower house) and the Legislative Council (the upper house). It dated back to the beginnings of Cape independence in 1853, and was elected according to the multi-racial Cape Qualified Franchise system, whereby suffrage qualifications were applied equally to all males, regardless of race.

The buildings of the Cape Parliament went on to house the Parliament of South Africa, after union.[2][3]

1910 to 1961

When the Union of South Africa was established in 1910,[4] the Parliament was bicameral and consisted of the King, the Senate, and the House of Assembly (known in Afrikaans as the Volksraad).

  • The King (from 1952, the Queen of South Africa) was represented by the Governor-General.
  • The Senate consisted of senators nominated by the four provinces, and by the Governor-General, initially for a period of ten years. The number of senators was changed from time to time. The Senate was chaired by a President of the Senate chosen by the senators from among themselves.
  • The House of Assembly consisted of members who were directly elected by the voters. Each MP represented an electoral district (constituency), and most of them were elected on the basis of their political party. The number of constituencies and parliamentary seats was increased from time to time, in line with increases in the population. The House was chaired by a Speaker chosen by the MPs from among themselves.
  • Only white men could be senators or MPs.
  • The franchise (right to vote) was originally granted to white men in all four provinces, to black men in the Cape Province and Natal, and to Coloured men in the Cape Province – in all cases, the minimum age was 21 years.

The composition of Parliament was changed by constitutional amendments from time to time:

  • From 1930, white women had the vote, and the right to serve as senators and MPs, on the same basis as white men.
  • In 1934, Parliament was declared "the sovereign legislative power in and over the Union".[5]
  • From 1937, black voters were separated from the other races – in the Senate they were represented by four elected senators (two for the Cape, one for Natal, one for the Orange Free State and Transvaal), and in the House of Assembly by three "native representative" MPs elected in separate black constituencies.[6]
  • From 1950, white voters in South West Africa, which was under South African administration at that time, were represented by four senators and six MPs.
  • From 1957, Coloured voters were separated from the whites – in the Senate they were represented by separate senators, and in the House of Assembly by MPs elected in separate Coloured constituencies.[7] To pass this amendment in the face of strong opposition (and two Supreme Court rulings), prime minister Johannes Strijdom had to enlarge the Senate and appoint enough pro-government senators to get the two-thirds majority he needed to force through the constitutional change.[8]
  • Representation of black voters was ended in 1960.
  • Voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1960.

In a referendum held in 1960, a small majority of the white voters approved the conversion of the country from a dominion to a republic.

1961 to 1984

Coat of arms of the Parliament of South Africa 1932–2000

The Republic of South Africa was established in 1961. The only change made to the composition of the Parliament was the substitution of the State President for the Queen.[9] A few significant changes were made later:

  • Coloured representation was ended in 1968, leaving both the Senate and the House of Assembly representing white voters only.
  • The Senate was abolished in 1981, changing Parliament to a unicameral legislature.
  • South West Africa ceased to be represented in Parliament from 1977.[10]

1984 to 1994

A new Constitution, introduced in 1984, re-enfranchised the Coloured population (women as well as men), and enfranchised the Indian population. It retained the existing House of Assembly for whites, and established a House of Representatives to represent the Coloureds, and a House of Delegates for the Indians, making Parliament a tricameral legislature. Blacks continued to be excluded.

  • Each house consisted of members elected to represent constituencies, plus a few additional members elected by the MPs, and some nominated by the State President.
  • Each house legislated on "own affairs" exclusive to its own race group, and they legislated jointly on "general affairs" affecting all races.[11] In practice, the House of Assembly, which had more MPs than the other two houses combined, continued to dominate the legislature.
  • Each house was chaired by a chairman elected by its members from among themselves. They were co-ordinated by a Speaker of Parliament, elected by the members of all three houses in a joint sitting.
  • The existing House of Assembly, elected in 1981, was deemed to have been re-elected in 1984, to co-ordinate its term of office with those of the two new houses. However, this was later overturned by the Supreme Court, and a separate election had to be held for the House of Assembly in 1987. The House elected in 1987 was then dissolved with the other houses in 1989.

The black majority were still disfranchised, and the new system lacked legitimacy even among the Coloureds and Asians, many of whom boycotted elections. In a referendum held in 1992, 68.73% of (only white) voters approved the reform process that effectively ended Apartheid. In late 1993, one of the last pieces of legislation passed by the Tricameral Parliament was the Interim Constitution, which took effect on 27 April 1994, the same day as the first non-racial elections.

Since 1994

A new interim constitution, introduced in 1994 after four years of negotiation, finally introduced all-race democracy and enfranchised men and women of all races on equal terms, the minimum age remaining 18 years. Parliament was reconstituted to consist of a Senate and a National Assembly.

  • The Senate consisted of 90 senators, ten nominated by each of the nine provinces. It was chaired by a President of the Senate elected by the senators from among themselves.
  • The National Assembly consists of 400 members, elected by voters on a proportional representation/party list system. There are no electoral districts, and each party is allocated a number of seats proportionate to the percentage of the votes it receives across the country. It is chaired by a Speaker elected by the MPs from among themselves.
  • In 1997 the final Constitution of South Africa came into force, in which the Senate was replaced by a 90-member National Council of Provinces (NCOP), made up of a 10-member delegation from each province (six delegates elected by the provincial legislature, the Premier and three other members of the provincial legislature). The NCOP is chaired by a Chairperson elected by the members from among themselves.

Seat of Parliament

The chamber of the National Assembly

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 among 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. Under the Constitution, there is provision for Parliament to sit elsewhere than Cape Town on grounds of public interest, security or convenience and Parliament is permitted to provide in its rules and orders for sittings outside Cape Town. Rule 24 of the National Assembly Rules accordingly allows the Speaker to direct that the House will sit at 'a place other than the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town' after consulting the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip of each party represented in the House. Rule 21 of the rules of the National Council of Provinces allows the Council to pass a resolution providing for it to sit elsewhere.

List of Parliaments

Parliaments of the Union

Parliaments of the Republic

See also


  1. ^ , s. 42Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996
  2. ^ The old Cape House, being pages from the history of a legislative assembly, Ralph Kilpin, T.M Miller, Cape Town, 1918
  3. ^ The Houses of Parliament, Cape Town, Andrew Cusack, 3 November 2009
  4. ^ South Africa Act 1909
  5. ^ Status of the Union Act 1934
  6. ^ Representation of Natives Act 1936
  7. ^ Separate Representation of Voters Act 1956
  8. ^ Senate Act 1955
  9. ^ Republic of South Africa Constitution Act 1961
  10. ^ SOUTH AFRICA Date of Elections: November 30, 1977, Inter-Parliamentary-Union
  11. ^ Republic of South Africa Constitution Act 1983
  • South Africa Act 1909
  • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1961
  • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1983
  • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1993
  • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996
  • Kahn, E. (1961). The New Constitution.
  • Kruger, D.W. (1969). The Making of a Nation.
  • May, H.J. (1949). The South African Constitution.

External links

  • Parliament of South Africa

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