History of elections in South Africa

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The South African general elections: 1977

The 1977 general elections

The 1977 elections were held for all the members of the House of Assembly, which was dissolved nearly two years before the normal expiry date of its term. The previous general election had been held in April 1974. The bicameral Parliament of South Africa consisted of the Senate and the House of Assembly. Since the last elections, changes in the number of members of the two Houses took place as a result of the expected independence of South West Africa (now Namibia).

The Senate consisted of 51 members: 43 elected by the electoral colleges of the country's four provinces (16 for the Transvaal, 11 for the Cape Province, and eight each for the Orange Free State and Natal), and eight appointed by the State President (two for each province). Senators were to hold office for five years. The House of Assembly composed of 165 members, elected for five years. Out of 165 members, 76 represent the Transvaal, 55 the Cape Province, 20 Natal and 14 the Orange Free State.

Before the 1977 general elections, the three main White opposition parties made an attempt to form a united liberal opposition to the National Party (NP). This was marked by the closure, in June 1977, of the United Party (UP) and the creation of the New Republican Party (NRP). Disagreements in policy led to the formation of a second group, the liberal-leaning Progressive Federal Party (PFP). The number of registered electors for 1977 election was 2 209 223, the number of voters was 1 063 774, the number of blank or void ballot papers was 21 273, and the number of valid votes was 1 042 501. The election was held on 30 November 1977. The National Party obtained 689 108 votes, Progressive Federal Party obtained 177 705, New Republican Party obtained 123 245, Herstigte Nasionale Party obtained 34 161, and South African Party obtained 6 171.   

In the 1977 South African general election, the NP led by John Vorster dominated with 136 seats, the PP won 17, the New Republic Party (NRP) led by Radclyffe Cadman won 10, and the South African Party of Myburgh Streicher won three in the 166-seat House of Assembly. In 1977, the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) was formed when some members of United Party (UP) left the Party to form the Committee for a United Opposition. The Committee then joined the Progressive Reform Party to form the Progressive Federal Party (PFP). PFP members were mainly liberal English-speaking Whites led by Colin Eglin. In 1978, BJ Vorster resigned as Prime Minister and became the State President. PW Botha became the Prime Minister. In 1979, following the Muldergate information scandal, BJ Vorster was forced to give up his Presidency.    

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Last updated : 15-Apr-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 24-Feb-2014