The South Africa Act 1909 was an Act of the British Parliament which created the Union of South Africa from the British colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River Colony, and Transvaal. The Act also made provisions for admitting Rhodesia as a fifth province of the Union in the future, but Rhodesian colonists rejected this option in a referendum held in 1922. The South Africa Act was the third major piece of legislation passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom with the intent of uniting various British colonies and granting them some degree of autonomy. Earlier, the British North America Act, 1867 had united three colonies (Canada – which became Ontario and Quebec – Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick) and the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 had united the Australian colonies.
|South Africa Act 1909|
|Long title||An Act to constitute the Union of South Africa.|
|Citation||9 Edw. VII c. 9|
|Territorial extent||Union of South Africa|
|Royal assent||20 September 1909|
|Commencement||31 May 1910|
|Repealed||31 May 1961|
|Amended by||Status of the Union Act, 1934|
|Repealed by||Republic of South Africa Constitution Act, 1961|
In the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), Britain re-annexed the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, two hitherto independent Boer republics. These new territories, renamed the Transvaal Colony and the Orange River Colony respectively, were added to Britain's existing South African territories, the Cape Colony and Colony of Natal. It was British government policy to encourage these four colonies to come together in closer union; after the grant of responsible government to the Transvaal Colony and Orange River Colony in 1907, this aspiration was one that was also increasingly held by the Afrikaner population.
These political forces resulted in the 1908 National Convention, which met on 12 October 1908 and completed its work on 11 May 1909. This Convention settled on the terms and constitution of a governmental, legislative, and economic Union. These proposals were transmitted to the British government, which duly prepared a Bill to give effect to these wishes. The Bill was passed by Parliament on 20 September 1909 and on 20 September 1909 King Edward VII of the United Kingdom proclaimed that the Union of South Africa would be established on 31 May 1910. This Act, which essentially brought into being the South African state as it is known today, served as the South African constitution for over fifty years, during which time the Statute of Westminster greatly increased South Africa's independence from Britain. Although South Africa became a republic in 1961 and left the Commonwealth, the basic structure of the 1909 Act continued to live on in its replacement, the Republic of South Africa Constitution Act (32 of 1961). However, the last vestiges of the 1909 Act finally disappeared in 1983 when the apartheid-era government enacted a new constitution, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act (110 of 1983).
The structure of the government of the Union of South Africa was similar to the government of other British Dominions. A Governor-General of South Africa was appointed to represent the British Monarch, who was also the Monarch of South Africa. Executive power was vested in the Monarch/Governor-General and was exercised on the advice of the Executive Council. Though not explicitly provided for by the South Africa Act, the office of Prime Minister of South Africa was quickly established as the head of government and, like other government ministers, the Prime Minister was required to be a Member of either House of Parliament. As in other British Dominions, the Governor-General appointed the leader of the largest political party in the lower house of Parliament as Prime Minister. Prime Ministers were also sworn in as Executive Councilors if they were not already members of the Executive Council.
Legislative power was vested in a Parliament consisting of the Monarch, a Senate, and a House of Assembly. For most of the Union's existence, the South Africa Act provided for each Province to have equal representation in the upper house, the Senate, and Senators were chosen by an electoral college made up of the Province's members in the House of Assembly and the members of the provincial legislature. The composition and election of the Senate would later be modified as part of the move towards apartheid and the establishment of the Republic of South Africa. In the lower house of Parliament, the House of Assembly, each Province was represented proportionally according to their respective populations and members were elected from individual districts within a Province. The House of Assembly had more power than the Senate, much like the relationship between the House of Commons and House of Lords. In the case of a disagreement between the Senate and House of Assembly, the Governor-General could convene a joint sitting of the two houses to review the legislation, make amendments, and vote on the bill. Because the House of Assembly was much larger than the Senate, the system was designed to protect the stronger position of the House in any joint sitting. A similar method of resolving disagreements exists in the Australian Parliament and the Indian Parliament, but the Australian Senate and the Rajya Sabha are each half the size of the Australian House of Representatives and the Lok Sabha, respectively, whereas the South African Senate was only one-third the size of the South African House of Assembly. Unlike the Australian model (but like the Indian one), no double dissolution election occurred before a joint sitting, further strengthening the position of the House of Assembly and the Prime Minister over the Senate.
The swact also established a Supreme Court of South Africa, which served as a unified court system for the Union and consisted of local, provincial, and appellate divisions. The old supreme courts of the provinces became the provincial divisions of the new Supreme Court of South Africa. The appellate division, which was the highest court in the land, was seated at Bloemfontein. There was a further appeal to the Privy Council, particularly in Admiralty cases. The power judicial review of Parliamentary legislation and administrative acts was the same as in the United Kingdom. In addition, the Supreme Court could review Parliamentary amendments of the entrenched clauses of the South Africa Act of 1909.
Each province was governed by an Administrator, appointed by the central government, and had a legislature in the form of a unicameral Provincial Council; four members of the Council joined with the Administrator to form a five-member executive committee that acted as the Province's Cabinet. Unlike Canada and Australia, which became dominions through the Federation of British colonies, the South Africa Act created a centralized, unitary state. Each of the four provinces became subordinate entities and had far fewer powers than the Canadian provinces or Australian states. As such, the government of South Africa was quite similar—from a constitutional standpoint—to the government of the United Kingdom.
The Cape Colony had long adhered to a system of non-racial franchise, whereby qualifications for suffrage were applied equally to all males, regardless of race. During the union negotiations, the last Cape Prime Minister, John X. Merriman, and Sir Walter Stanford, representing the Transkei and other African communities, fought unsuccessfully to have this multi-racial franchise system extended to the rest of South Africa. Their attempt failed in the face of opposition from the white governments of the other constituent states, which were determined to entrench white rule.
The South Africa Act permitted the Cape Province to keep a restricted version of its traditional franchise, whereby qualifications limited the suffrage of all citizens according to education and wealth. This led to the Cape being the only province in South Africa where coloureds (mixed-race people) and Black Africans could vote. The act also permitted the Parliament of South Africa to prescribe all other voting qualifications.
However, according to the Act, Parliament was given the power to change the Cape's voting requirements by a two-thirds vote. Over the following years, legislation was passed by Parliament to slowly erode this colour-blind voters roll.
In 1931, the remaining franchise qualifications, except for the age limit of 21, were removed for white voters, but kept in place for Black and "Coloured" voters (including the demand that voters be male). In 1956, the Apartheid government removed all remaining suffrage rights for "non-whites" in what became known as the Coloured vote constitutional crisis.
Overall the Act did little to protect black Africans during the time period in which the South Africa Act was the constitution of South Africa, and ultimately enabled the establishing of fifty years of apartheid and racial discrimination.
The Act established English and Dutch as the official languages of South Africa, with equal status under the law, and required all government documents and Parliamentary proceedings to be published in both languages. In modern times, English remains one of the official languages of the Republic of South Africa. Dutch was extended to include Afrikaans by the Official Languages of the Union Act, 1925, and replaced by Afrikaans in the Constitution of 1961.
The 1910 South African general election was held for the 121 seats in the House of Assembly of the Union of South Africa, on 15 September 1910. This was the first general election, after the Union came into force on 31 May 1910.
In addition to the general election, the first election to the provincial councils of Cape Province and Transvaal took place on the same day. Those councils used the same electoral districts as those for the House of Assembly seats in the province. The first election for the provincial councils of Natal and Orange Free State, which did not use the same constituency boundaries as the House of Assembly, took place on a later date.The South African National Party (known as the South African Party from 1911) of General Louis Botha won a slim majority. The Unionist Party became the official opposition.African Political Organization
The African Political Organization, later known as the African People's Organization (APO), was a coloured political organisation in early-20th-century South Africa. Founded in Cape Town in 1902, the organisation rallied South African coloureds against the South Africa Act 1909.Trafalgar High School was created as a direct result of criticism of the Cape School Board in the APO newspaper in August 1911. Investigations found that the board had created no benefit at all for students who were non-white. Abdullah Abdurahman lobbied the board and the first school for coloured children was created. The school was led by Abdullah Abdurahman's prodigy, Harold Cressy.The APO represented South African coloured protest politics until its demise in 1923 while also publishing a major newspaper called The APO.Afrikaner Party
The Afrikaner Party (AP) was a South African political party from 1941 to 1951.Apartheid legislation
The system of racial segregation in South Africa known as apartheid was implemented and enforced by a large number of acts and other laws. This legislation served to institutionalise racial discrimination and the dominance by white people over people of other races. While the bulk of this legislation was enacted after the election of the National Party government in 1948, it was preceded by discriminatory legislation enacted under earlier British and Afrikaner governments. Apartheid is distinguished from segregation in other countries by the systematic way in which it was formalised in law.Cape Provincial Council
The Cape Provincial Council was the provincial council of the Cape Province of South Africa. It was created by the South Africa Act 1909, with effect from the formation of the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910. The first election to the provincial council took place on 15 September 1910 (also the day of the South African general election, 1910).The provincial council continued to exist until 1986, when its functions were transferred to a strengthened executive authority appointed by the State President. The province itself was disbanded in 1994, when the provinces were reconstructed.Cape Qualified Franchise
The Cape Qualified Franchise was the system of non-racial franchise that was adhered to in the Cape Colony, and in the Cape Province in the early years of the Union of South Africa. Qualifications for the right to vote at parliamentary elections were applied equally to all men, regardless of race.
This local system of multi-racial suffrage was later gradually restricted, and eventually abolished, under various National Party and United Party governments. In 1930 white women were enfranchised, and in 1931 property qualifications for white voters were removed. In 1936 black voters were then removed from the common voters' rolls and allowed only to elect separate members in 1936, and subsequently denied all representation in the House of Assembly in 1960. Coloured voters similarly followed in 1958 and 1970, respectively.Governor-General of South Africa
The Governor-General of the Union of South Africa (Afrikaans: Goewerneur-generaal van Unie van die Suid-Afrika, Dutch: Gouverneur-generaal van de Unie van Zuid-Afrika) was the highest state official in the Union of South Africa between 31 May 1910 and 31 May 1961. The Union of South Africa was founded as a self-governing Dominion of the British Empire in 1910 and the office of governor-general was established as the representative of the monarch. Fifty-one years later the country declared itself a republic and the historic link with the British monarchy was broken. The office of governor-general was abolished.
Some of the first holders of the post were members of the British royal family including Prince Arthur of Connaught between 1920 and 1924, and the Earl of Athlone, who served between 1924 and 1931, before becoming the Governor General of Canada. As in other Dominions, this would change, and from 1943 onward only South Africans (in fact, only Afrikaners) held the office.
The office was established by the South Africa Act 1909. Although the Governor-General was nominally the country's chief executive, in practice he was bound by convention to act on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet of South Africa.Greater South Africa
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, a number of South African and British political leaders advocated for a Greater South Africa. This irredentism can be regarded as an early form of Pan-Africanism, albeit strictly limited to White Africans of European ancestry.List of heads of state of South Africa
This is a list of the heads of state of South Africa, from the foundation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 to the present day.
From 1910 to 1961 the head of state under the South Africa Act 1909 was the Monarch, who was the same person as the Monarch of the United Kingdom and of the other Dominions/Commonwealth realms. The Monarch was represented in South Africa by a Governor-General. South Africa became a republic under the Constitution of 1961 and the Monarch and Governor-General were replaced by a ceremonial State President. In 1984, under the Tricameral Constitution, the State President gained executive powers, becoming head of both state and government. Since 1994, under the Interim Constitution and the current Constitution, the head of state and government has been called the President.Meritorious Service Medal (South Africa)
In May 1895, Queen Victoria authorised Colonial governments to adopt various British military medals and to award them to their local permanent military forces. The Cape of Good Hope and Colony of Natal instituted their own territorial versions of the Meritorious Service Medal in terms of this authority. These two medals remained in use in the respective territories until after the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910.In 1914, the Meritorious Service Medal (South Africa) was instituted for the Union of South Africa, for award to selected senior non-commissioned officers of the Permanent Force of the newly established Union Defence Forces who had completed twenty-one years of meritorious service.Natal Provincial Council
The Natal Provincial Council was the provincial council of Natal Province in South Africa. It was created by the South Africa Act 1909, with effect from the formation of the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910.
The Provincial Council continued to exist until 1986, at which point its functions were transferred to a strengthened executive authority appointed by the State President. The province itself was disbanded in 1994, when the provinces were reconstructed.Official Languages of the Union Act, 1925
The Official Languages of the Union Act, 1925 (Act No. 8 of 1925) was an act of the Parliament of South Africa that included Afrikaans as a variety of Dutch. It had the effect of making Afrikaans an official language of the Union of South Africa. It commenced on 27 May 1925 but was deemed to have had effect from the creation of the Union in 1910.
The South Africa Act, 1909, which was the constitution of the Union, had made English and Dutch the official languages of the country. Section 137 of the South Africa Act read:
Both the English and Dutch languages shall be official languages of the Union, and shall be treated on a footing of equality, and possess and enjoy equal freedom, rights, and privileges; all records, journals, and proceedings of Parliament shall be kept in both languages, and all Bills, Acts, and notices of general public importance or interest issued by the Government of the Union shall be in both languages.
The single substantive provision of the Official Languages Act, section 1, read:
The word “Dutch” in section one hundred and thirty-seven of the South Africa Act, 1909, and wheresoever else that word occurs in the said Act, is hereby declared to include Afrikaans.
The South Africa Act and the Official Languages Act were repealed by the Constitution of 1961, which reversed the position of Afrikaans and Dutch, so that English and Afrikaans were the official languages and Afrikaans was deemed to include Dutch. The Constitution of 1983 removed mention of Dutch.Orange Free State Provincial Council
The Orange Free State Provincial Council was the provincial council of the Orange Free State Province in South Africa. It was created by the South Africa Act 1909, with effect from the formation of the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910.
The provincial council continued to exist until 1986, when its functions were transferred to a strengthened executive authority appointed by the State President. The province itself was disbanded in 1994, when the provinces were reconstructed.Senate of South Africa
The Senate was the upper house of the Parliament of South Africa between 1910 and its abolition from 1 January 1981, and between 1994 and 1997.South African Indian Congress
The South African Indian Congress (SAIC) was an organisation founded in 1921 in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), South Africa. The congress is famous for its strong participation by Mahatma Gandhi and other prominent South African Indian figures during the time. Umar Hajee Ahmed Jhaveri was elected the first president of the South African Indian Congress. The SAIC was a member of the Congress Alliance.Supreme Court of South Africa
The Supreme Court of South Africa was a superior court of law in South Africa from 1910 to 1997. It was made up of various provincial and local divisions with jurisdiction over specific geographical areas, and an Appellate Division which was the highest appellate court in the country. It is not to be confused with the modern Supreme Court of Appeal, established in 1997.Transkei National Independence Party
Transkei National Independence Party was a political party in the bantustan of Transkei, South Africa. It was founded by the Matanzima brothers, Kaiser and George. The party advocated cooperation with the South African government. As of 1985, the leader of the party was George Matanzima. TNIP governed Transkei from 1976 until 1994.Transvaal Provincial Council
The Transvaal Provincial Council was the provincial council of the Transvaal Province in South Africa. It was created by the South Africa Act 1909, from the formation of the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910. The first election to the provincial council took place on 15 September 1910 (also the day of the South African general election, 1910).The Provincial Council continued to exist until 1986, when its functions were transferred to a strengthened executive authority appointed by the State President. The province itself was disbanded in 1994, when the provinces were reconstructed.Union of South Africa
The Union of South Africa (Dutch: Unie van Zuid-Afrika, Afrikaans: Unie van Suid-Afrika pronunciation ) is the historical predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa. It came into being on 31 May 1910 with the unification of the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Transvaal, and the Orange River Colony. It included the territories that were formerly a part of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.
Following the First World War, the Union of South Africa was a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles and became one of the founding members of the League of Nations. It was conferred the administration of South West Africa (now known as Namibia) as a League of Nations mandate. It became treated in most respects as another province of the Union, but it never was formally annexed.
Like Canada and Australia, the Union of South Africa was a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. Its full sovereignty was confirmed with the Balfour Declaration 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931. It was governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with the Crown being represented by a governor-general. The Union came to an end with the enactment of the constitution of 1961, by which it became a republic and temporarily left the Commonwealth.
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Political history of South Africa