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South African constitutional reform referendum, 1983

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Title: South African constitutional reform referendum, 1983  
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Subject: Tricameral Parliament, Elections in South Africa, South African general election, 1994, South African Constitution of 1983, Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa
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South African constitutional reform referendum, 1983

South African constitutional reform referendum, 1983
Are you in favour of the implementation of the Constitution Act, 1983, as approved by Parliament?
Yes or no Votes Percentage
Yes 1,360,223 66.29%
No 691,577 33.71%
Valid votes 2,051,800 99.48%
Invalid or blank votes 10,669 0.52%
Total votes 2,062,469 100.00%
Voter turnout 76.02%
Electorate 2,713,000
Results by province

A referendum on a new constitution was held in South Africa on 2 November 1983 in which the white population was given the opportunity to approve or reject the Constitution of 1983. This constitution introduced the Tricameral Parliament, in which coloured and Indian South Africans would be represented in separate parliamentary chambers, while black South Africans would remain unrepresented. The referendum passed with 66.3% of voters voting "Yes"; consequently the new constitution came into force on 3 September 1984.


In 1981 the Senate was abolished and replaced with the President's Council, which was an advisory body consisting of sixty nominated members from the white, coloured, Indian and Chinese population groups. Following a request by Prime Minister P.W. Botha, the President's Council presented a set of proposals in 1982 for constitutional and political reform. This proposal called for the implementation of "power sharing" between the white, coloured and Indian communities.

The right wing of the ruling National Party (NP) rejected this proposal and a group of its MPs, led by Dr. Andries Treurnicht, a cabinet minister and the leader of the NP in the Transvaal province, broke away to form the Conservative Party (CP) in order to fight for a return to apartheid in its original form. However, Botha continued to be in favour of implementing the President's Council proposal and in 1983 the NP government introduced a new constitutional framework. A referendum was called for in order to determine public support for the reforms amongst white voters.


Both the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), which objected to the exclusion of blacks, as well as the CP, which objected to the participation of coloureds and Indians, campaigned for a "No" vote. However, many PFP followers and parts of the anti-government English language press supported the new constitution as "a step in the right direction". The conservative opposition to the reforms used banners with the text "Rhodesia voted yes – vote no!" reflecting on the transformation to majority rule in Rhodesia.[1]

The United Democratic Front (UDF) was launched as a non-racial coalition to oppose the referendum and the subsequent elections for the coloured and Indian chambers in parliament.


Results of the referendum broken down by region
Are you in favour of the implementation of the Constitution Act, 1983, as approved by Parliament?
Is U ten gunste van die inwerkingtreding van die Grondwet, 1983, soos deur die Parlement goedgekeur?[2]
Choice Votes %
Yes 1,360,223 66.29
No 691,577 33.71
Invalid/blank votes 10,669
Total 2,062,469 100
Registered voters/turnout 2,713,000 76.02

By region

For counting purposes the provinces of South Africa were divided into various referendum areas. The following table shows the results in each area.[4]

Area Yes No Valid
Votes % Votes %
Cape of Good Hope
Beaufort West 22,502 74.42 7,733 25.58 30,235 93 30,328
Cape Town 221,511 75.61 71,456 24.39 292,967 1,229 294,196
East London 53,202 77.91 15,087 22.09 68,289 255 68,544
George 31,256 73.23 11,426 26.77 42,682 141 42,823
Kimberley 34,815 66.05 17,898 33.95 52,713 110 52,823
Port Elizabeth 60,661 70.08 25,901 29.92 86,562 208 86,770
Total Cape 423,947 73.93 149,501 26.07 573,448 2,036 575,484
Durban 123,783 73.58 44,442 26.42 168,225 750 168,975
Pietermaritzburg 50,519 71.58 20,060 28.42 70,579 366 70,945
Total Natal 174,302 72.99 64,502 27.01 238,804 1,116 239,920
Orange Free State
Bloemfontein 52,019 65.86 26,960 34.14 78,979 331 79,310
Kroonstad 55,486 63.19 32,321 36.81 87,807 189 87,996
Total O.F.S. 107,505 64.46 59,281 35.54 166,786 520 167,306
Germiston 113,600 65.35 60,241 34.65 173,841 900 174,741
Johannesburg 194,396 69.44 85,554 30.56 279,950 3,906 283,856
Pietersburg 31,403 47.42 34,827 52.58 66,230 247 66,477
Pretoria 209,763 57.13 157,433 42.87 367,196 1,035 368,231
Roodepoort 105,307 56.76 80,238 43.24 185,545 909 186,454
Total Transvaal 654,469 61.01 418,293 38.99 1,072,762 6,997 1,079,759
Total R.S.A. 1,360,223 66.29 691,577 33.71 2,051,800 10,669 2,062,469


  1. ^ Godwin, Peter (25 March 1984). "Whose Kith and Kin Now?". The Sunday Times Magazine. Archived from the original on 5 August 2004. Retrieved 9 August 2013. Those with unbendable prejudices (the most furiously racist of them being post-UDI immigrants) began to leave for South Africa. There they spread horror stories about Zimbabwe and, in the recent South African referendum on giving Coloureds and Indians the vote, flocked to vote for the right-wing parties behind such banners as 'Rhodesia voted yes – vote no!' 
  2. ^ "Proclamation No. 134 of 1983: Determination of referendum under the Referendums Act, 1983".  
  3. ^ "Südafrika, 2. November 1983 : Verfassungsreform". Search Engine for Direct Democracy (in German). Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  4. ^ "Notice 874 of 1983: Result of the referendum held on 2 November 1983".  
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