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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Tricameral Parliament Description 1

Following intense debate and a series of legislative revisions in the early 1980s, the new Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act (No. 110) of 1983 went into effect on September 22, 1984. It outlined a government led by a president, who served as head of state and chief executive, and a parliamentary system with increased coloured and Indian representation. The new, tricameral Parliament encompassed a (white) House of Assembly, a (coloured) House of Representatives, and an (Indian) House of Delegates. The president was selected by an eighty-eight-member electoral college consisting of fifty whites, twenty-five coloureds, and thirteen Indians, chosen by a majority vote in their respective houses of parliament. The president served for the duration of the parliament that selected him, normally a five-year term. The president could dissolve the parliament, or could extend it by up to six months beyond its five-year term.

The president shared executive authority with a cabinet, which he appointed from the tricameral parliament, and with a Ministers Council chosen by him from the majority in each house of parliament. In addition, the president relied on a sixty-member President's Council for advice on urgent matters and for resolution of differences among houses of parliament. The President's Council comprised twenty members from the House of Assembly, ten from the House of Representatives, five from the House of Delegates, fifteen nominated by the president, and ten nominated by opposition party leaders. The NP dominated the President's Council throughout the ten-year duration of the 1983 constitution.

The three-chambered parliament was based on a fundamental premise of the 1983 constitution, the distinction between a racial community's "own" affairs (encompassing education, health, housing, social welfare, local government, and some aspects of agriculture), and "general" affairs (encompassing defense, finance, foreign policy, justice, law and order, transport, commerce and industry, manpower, internal affairs, and overall agricultural policy). Thus, legislation "affecting the interests" of one community was deliberated upon by the appropriate house, but legislation on "general affairs" of importance to all races was handled by all three houses of parliament. Disagreements among houses of parliament on specific legislation could be resolved by the President's Council, giving the NP-dominated House of Assembly substantial weight in determining the outcome of all legislative debates. The president signed all legislation, and he also exercised administrative responsibility for black affairs.

The country was divided into four provinces - Cape of Good Hope Province (later, the Cape Province), Natal Province, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. The president appointed a provincial administrator for each province. Until the mid-1980s, the provincial administrator acted in consultation with a provincial council, which was elected by whites only. In July 1987, the provincial councils were replaced by eight multiracial regional services councils (RSCs)--four in the Transvaal, three in the Cape Province, and one in the Orange Free State. The RSCs were empowered to administer government regulations and to coordinate the provision of services to local communities.


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