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The Parliament of South Africa is South Africa's legislature and is composed of the National Assembly of South Africa and the National Council of Provinces.

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 democratic 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.

South West Africa

In 1948, white residents of the United Nations mandated territory of South West Africa became eligible to vote in South African elections, despite the territory never being formally incorporated into the Union. Representation for the territory in the South African Parliament was abolished in 1981.


When the National Party came to power on a policy of racial segregation or apartheid in 1948, 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

Main article: 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, a Tricameral Parliament was established: the House of Assembly was elected by whites, the House of Representatives was elected by mixed-race Coloureds, and the House of Delegates was 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?

The chamber of the National Assembly of South Africa.
Parliament sits in Cape Townmarker, even though the seat of government is in Pretoriamarker. 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, Bloemfonteinmarker the judicial capital, Pietermaritzburgmarker the archival, 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

External links

fr : Parlement d’Afrique du Sud

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