With the parties and their representatives elected, the Tricameral went into operation and the various houses sat for the first time on 1984.
While the House of Assembly, the White parliament, went about its business as it had done under the previous system, with its all-White MPs, the other two houses embarked on the novel experience of sitting and deciding issues related to their respective communities.
Botha appointed Rajbansi and Hendrickse to the Cabinet in September 1984 as Chairmen of the Ministers' Councils, but neither were given portfolios, reflecting the National Party’s determination to hold on to all the levers of government.
The immediate costs of running the country's legislative network-three houses of parliament and ten legislative assemblies with 1,270 members, and 121 ministers-was nearly R50 million a year.
The Indian and Coloured MPs justified their participation in the new system by arguing that they would be able to oppose Apartheid ‘from within’. Hendrickse said in January 1986: 'It does not mean that because I am a member of the Cabinet that I endorse decisions of the Cabinet or the policy of the National Party. . . . Our participation in that particularly high echelon of government must be seen in terms of seeking for change.'
But in fact they proved to be wholly incompetent, and even collaborated with the NP in bolstering Apartheid laws in some instances.
When Rajbansi and Hendrickse opposed the President Council's decision to pass two security laws – the Internal Security Amendment Bill, providing for detention without trial of up to 180 days; and the Public Safety Amendment Bill – in June 1986, they were overridden by the President, whose advisors had anticipated such hiccups when they gave the President and the White dominated President’s Council the power to override such opposition.
While the entire HoD voted to reject the Local Government Amendment Bill, meant to entrench racially determined local authorities, Rajbansi’s NPP supported a related bill, the Bill for Regional Councils. According to Solidarity MP Pat Poovalingam:
‘On Tuesday Rajbansi waxed eloquent about it being a matter of principle not to support Apartheid in local government. On Wednesday, he did just that. But of course, between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, he had a meeting with his Cabinet colleagues, including President Botha.’
While the HoR voted to allow people from other race groups to attend so-called Coloured schools, the HoD baulked at the prospect. While it agreed to accept ‘non-Indian’ pupils in principle, it sent a confidential memorandum to school principals to abide by three conditions while considering ‘non-Indian’ pupils: ‘the character of the school must not be prejudiced, when considering a Black pupil; that preference at all times must be given to Indian pupils; and that the principal must decide whether the pupil would be assimilated into the class, ‘taking into account the pupil’s physical stature’.
When the memorandum was leaked to the media, the HoD was accused of sending out a memorandum resembling ‘something straight out of the race classification handbook’. When 300 black pupils applied for acceptance at Indian schools in Lenasia (an Indian area south of Johannesburg) in 1987, only four were accepted at Indian schools throughout the then Transvaal (Desai, 1996).