About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

1909. [Union of] South Africa Act

Allen (1992: 193+196) and Christopher (1994: 178) refer to thi.s as the SOUTH AFRICA ACT, while Worden (1994: 69, and elsewhere) refers to It as the ACT .OF UNION. May (1995: 173) mentions a BRITISH ACT OF UNION.(the same?), WhICh he claims was re-enacted as the STATUS OF THE UNION ACT m 1934 (?).

Although the UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA ACT was passed by the British Parliament at Westminster, it was wholly constructed by South Afncan representatives in South Africa. It set out t~e leg.al enactment of the Union of South Africa which was subsequently proclaImed m 1910, and assumably It also included the Constitution, and if not, this is a convenient place to mention " something about it anyway: it "was a flexible constitution like the British, albeit a written one, in which sovereignty (subject to the limitations of the COLONIAL LAWS VALIDITY ACT of 1865 and the safeguards for the Royal prerogative) lay with the Union Parliament" (Davenport 1987: 247).

"Agreement had not been reached without acrimony, and there were times when it seemed that the national convention of representatives of the four colonies might break up among recriminations. Controversy over the franchise went to the heart of disagreement. The Cape delegates argued for the extension of their own system, restricted but colour-blind; the other three colonies were adamant that voting should be for Whites only. No one seriously suggested that there should be votes for women. In the end each of the new provinces retained its existing arrangements, which meant that 'Cape liberalism' would be confined to the Cape. Only Whites might sit in the Parliament. The choice of a capital was another matter where tempers ran high. Eventually an expensive compromise was reached. Cape Town would be the seat of Parliament, Pretoria the seat of administration; this meant that there would be a cumbersome movement of ministers and civil servants over a thousand miles, twice every year at the beginning and ending of each parliamentary session. Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State (as it was now renamed), was to be the judicial capital - that is, the seat of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court" (May 1995: 145). Furthermore, the Supreme Court "allowed appeals from the appellate division to the Privy Council, the British monarch's private council, and made the Privy Council South Africa's highest court of appeal" (Riley 1991: 19).

As for the Parliament it became "a bicameral parliament: a House of Representatives of 121 members, elected for five years, to be increased to 150 as the white population grew; and a Senate of 40, eight from each province elected by proportional representation and eight nominated by the Govemor- General, of whom four should have a 'thorough acquaintance ... with the reasonable wants and wishes of the coloured races' " (May 1995: 145).

"Any part of the constitution could be amended by a simple majority of each House, but for the section protecting the voting rights of the non-white people of the Cape (Section 35) ... and the section defining the equal status of the English and Dutch languages (Section 137) ... could only be amended by a two-thirds majority at the third reading in a joint session of both Houses" (Davenport 1987: 247), as stated by Section 152. "These three sections came to be known as the entrenched clauses and were later to be the subject of a bitter constitutional dispute" (Dugard 1978: 27ft).

The Constitution also made provisions for the future inclusion of Basutoland, Swaziland, Bechuanaland and Southern Rhodesia (Christopher 1994: 178). See also the SOUTH AFRICA AMENDMENT ACT of 1969.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.