The 1983 Constitution and the new dispensation

The draft new constitution set out the new dispensation: a tricameral parliament, a state president with extended powers, and a president’s council which effectively had the power to override parliament.

The tricameral parliament was based on a concept of groups with their own racial and cultural identities, and distinguished between general affairs and own affairs, the former affecting all population groups and the latter confined to issues affecting only those groups.

Own affairs would ‘affect a population group in relation to the maintenance of its identity and the upholding and furtherance of its way of life, culture, traditions and customs’ (Welsh). These included issues related to social welfare, education at all levels, health, community development (including housing), local government (within areas designated for the respective population groups) and agriculture (including financial assistance to farmers).

The parliament would be based on a ratio of Whites to Coloureds and Indians, established at 4:2:1. This translated into 178 White MPs in the House of Assembly, 85 Coloured MPs in the House of Representatives, and 45 Indian MPs in the House of Delegates.

Bills concerned with own affairs needed to be passed only by the House concerned with that particular group, while bills classed as general had to be passed by all three houses. But if these were not passed by the House of Delegates (HoD) or House of Representatives (HoR), the State President had the right to refer the bill to the President’s Council, where White MPs had the power to ram the bills through.

The State President, under the new constitution, would have enormous powers. He would appoint 15 members of the President’s Council, he would be able to decide which issues were own affairs and which general, he could convene and dissolve parliament, and appoint special committees and Cabinet ministers.

• Desai, Ashwin, Arise ye Coolies: Apartheid and the Indian, 1960-1995, 1996, Impact Africa Publishing.
•  Heunis, Jan; The Inner Circle, 2007, Jonathan Ball Publishers
•   Omond, Roger. South Africa's Post-Apartheid Constitution, 1987,  Third World Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2, After Apartheid (Apr., 1987), pp. 622-637
•  Spence, JE,  South Africa: Reform versus Reaction, 1981,  The World Today, Vol. 37, No. 12 (Dec., 1981), pp. 461-468
•  Welsh, David.  Constitutional Changes in South Africa, 1984,  Vol. 83, No. 331 (Apr., 1984), pp. 147-162
•  Welsh, David, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, 2009, Jonathan Ball Publishers

Last updated : 07-Feb-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 07-Feb-2014