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Parliament of the Cape of
Good Hope
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
Engraving of the first opening of the Cape Parliament in 1854.
The Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
functioned as the Legislature of the Cape Colony,
from its founding in 1853, until the creation of the
Union of South Africa in 1910, when it was
dissolved and the Parliament of South Africa was
It consisted of the House of Assembly (the lower
house) and the legislative council (the upper
The First Parliament
The Cape's Legislative Council.
Prior to Responsible Government, the British government granted the
Cape Colony a rudimentary and relatively powerless Legislative
Council in 1835.
The British attempt to turn the Cape into a penal colony for convicts,
similar to Australia, mobilised the local population in the 1840s and
threw up a generation of local leaders who believed that far-away
Britain was not capable of understanding local interests and issues.
This group of politicians, which included the likes of Porter, Solomon,
Fairbairn, Molteno, Stockenstrm and Jarvis, shared not only a
common belief in the importance of local self-government, but also an
explicit commitment to a liberal, inclusive and multi-racial political
This political elite successfully began the controversial drive for Cape
independence which, unusually, was attained in the end through
gradual evolution, rather than sudden revolution.
Representative Government (1853)
The Queen granted the Cape its first Parliament in 1853, and the local leadership were permitted to draft a
constitution. This was a relatively liberal document that prohibited race or class discrimination, and instituted the
non-racial Cape Qualified Franchise, whereby the same qualifications for suffrage were applied equally to all males,
regardless of race. However, the parliament was weak and executive power remained firmly in the hands of the
Governor who was appointed from London.
The British Governor opened this first parliament at his residence, "the Tuynhuys", but the House of Assembly soon
relocated to the small but stately Goede Hoop Masonic Lodge buildings. The old Legislative Council (now
reconstituted as the Parliament's upper house) was housed at the nearby Old Supreme Court building (now the Iziko
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
Slave Lodge Museum).
Responsible Government (1872)
The Masonic Lodge which served as the venue of
the first Cape Parliament.
Cartoon critical of Responsible Government,
showing the parliamentary representatives of the
various Cape factions sharing out power and
A faction of the Cape's powerful local leaders, under the leadership of
John Molteno, pushed for further independence in the form of
"Responsible Government". This was attained in 1872, bringing all
branches of the Cape's government under local control and making the
Executive directly "responsible" to Parliament and the electorate for
the first time.
There followed a brief boom period in the history of the Cape, with the
economy surging, the frontiers stable and local democracy taking root.
The new constitution held the non-racial nature of its political system
as one of its core values. The universal qualification for suffrage (25)
was sufficiently low to ensure that most owners of any form of
property or land could vote; and there was a determination on the part
of the Government not to raise it, on the understanding that inflation
would eventually render it obsolete. There were the early beginnings of
a drive to register the many new potential voters, particularly the rural
Xhosa people of the frontier region, who were mostly communal land
owners and therefore eligible for suffrage. Opportunistic politicians
soon followed, to campaign for Black African voters.
The new government based itself in the halls of the Masonic Lodge
where the previous parliaments had sat. This relatively humble
building was seen as suitably central and close to the Legislative
Council building. The large gardens of the Lodge soon became a
popular venue for the public, with concerts, theatre and finally the
"South African International Exhibition" which Molteno sponsored in
1877. The Parliamentary hall itself was open to members of the public,
also explicitly "irrespective of class or colour", should they wish to observe the performance of their
The operating language of the parliament in the early years of Responsible Government was English, though
Afrikaans was often spoken informally. Dutch was added by parliamentary act in 1882, by MP "Onze Jan" Hofmeyr
with the powerful support of Saul Solomon. A statement was also made, on its introduction, that the recognition of a
"Native" language, as a third official language, would also be acceptable, but only once sufficient "Native"
parliamentarians were elected.
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
The new Parliament building
The building fiasco
Freeman's original elaborate plan for the new
The final Parliament building as constructed
(without statues, dome or fountains)
From the beginning of Responsible Government, there were
increasingly vocal complaints from members of parliament about the
humble appearance of their venue. MPs increasingly complained that
the Parliament would not attract sufficient respect from "the public and
strangers", unless a more grandiose edifice were constructed.
A brief controversy arose about this need to build a more stately
Parliament, as Prime Minister Molteno was not an ostentatious man,
and had little interest in spending tax money on what he saw as
essentially an expensive vanity project (At the time an enormous
countrywide programme was underway, of building schools, public
transport and communications infrastructure, and funds were
consequently in tight demand). He was over-ruled by the legislature
however, and the Commissioner of Public Works, Charles
Abercrombie Smith, ordered a select committee to receive designs. The
committee selected the elaborate proposal of the renowned architect
Charles Freeman, at the time an officer in the Public Works
Department. Sites that were mooted for the new building included
Greenmarket Square, Caledon Square and the top of Government
Avenue, but eventually the current site was selected. Freeman was
made resident architect and construction began on 12 May 1875, with
Governor Henry Barkly laying the cornerstone.
Almost immediately it was discovered that Freeman's plans were faulty. Freeman's errors were compounded by the
presence of groundwater, and a recalculation of the budget revealed that the actual costs would be many times the
original figure that the government had allowed for.
The Cape government stepped in. Freeman was fired for incompetence and the Public Works Commission was
re-structured. There was initially some discussion in parliament about abandoning the half-finished building.
However, the government ordered the project completed, even though the budget was now calculated to be many
times the original sum. In 1876 it appointed Henry Greaves to alter Freeman's plans, fix the faulty foundations, and
see the project successfully through. Moreover it ordered him to remove from the plan the statues, parapets,
fountains, elaborate dome and other expensive flourishes.
Building re-commenced, but was delayed once again this time by the British overthrow of the Cape government in
1878, the ensuing Confederation Wars, and finally by the building company going bankrupt in 1883. Greaves
tenaciously completed the job however, and the large, stately, but relatively unpretentious building was finally
opened in 1884.
Cape Prime Minister Thomas Scanlen, and British Governor Henry Robinson led the opening ceremony in the
building, declared finally to be worthy of the country's Legislature.
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
The restricting of the multi-racial franchise
Main article: Cape Qualified Franchise
Cecil John Rhodes, as Prime Minister, did much
to restrict African representation in the Cape
Over the years, as the Cape's early generation of political
heavy-weights died or retired, power moved away from their liberal
heirs, and towards pro-imperialist opposition politicians who wanted
stronger ties with the British Empire and saw the multi-racial franchise
as a threat to white political control.
This radical opposition had its origins in the white Eastern Cape
separatist movement who had been threatened by the political
mobilisation of their Xhosa neighbours. It gained office under Prime
Minister Gordon Sprigg, and eventually reached the height of its power
as the pro-imperialist "Progressive Party" under Prime Minister Cecil
John Rhodes, the most dictatorial and aggressively expansionist leader
in Cape history.
The liberals (now on the defensive, as the opposition "South African
Party") attempted to further mobilise the Cape's Black population in a
desperate attempt to find allies to the liberal & multi-racial cause.
However they were outmaneuvered by Rhodes and his allies, who
imposed increasingly severe legal restrictions on the African franchise.
As fast as the African voters mobilised, their numbers were diminished
through discriminatory legislation.
The Parliamentary Registration Act (1887) removed traditional African forms of communal land-ownership from the
franchise qualifications, thus disenfranchising a large portion of the Cape's Xhosa population. Rhodes's Franchise
and Ballot Act (1892) finally succeeded in raising the franchise qualification from 25 to 75, disenfranchising the
poorest classes of all race groups (including poor whites) but effecting a disproportionately large percentage of the
African voters. It also added literacy as a franchise qualification, intended to target the (still mostly illiterate) Xhosa
voters of the Cape. Finally, the Glen Grey Act (1894) re-drew the laws on rural African land tenure and effectively
disqualified nearly all rural Africans from the vote.
The end result was that, by the end of Rhodes's Ministry, only a small portion of relatively wealthy, educated, urban
Black Africans were still permitted to vote.
Decades later, with the rise of Apartheid after Union, all
restrictions were removed for White voters, meaning that the remaining qualifications of the Cape Qualified
Franchise only applied to non-whites.
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
Move towards Union
On Union, the Cape (blue) was to be united with
Natal (red), Transvaal (green) and the Orange
Free State (orange).
The Cape Parliament today, as the South African
National Parliament.
In the early twentieth century, following the tumults of the Anglo-Boer
wars, the whole of southern Africa was finally under the control of the
British Empire. The union of the various component states of the
region was once again discussed. Several previous attempts at union
had failed, but in 1909 a National Convention was instituted in Cape
Town, to unite the Cape of Good Hope with Natal, the Transvaal, and
the Orange Free State, to form a united country of "South Africa". The
Convention met in the Cape Assembly's chamber of the Cape
Parliament building, and it was here that the new constitution for South
Africa was drawn up.
The Union of South Africa was proclaimed the following year, in
1910, and the old Cape Parliamentary building became the home of the
new Parliament of South Africa. The provincial government of the
Cape, now the "Cape Province", was set up in a new building nearby,
the Pronvisiale-gebou.
Parliaments & Ministries of the Cape of Good
Parliaments of the Cape (18541910)
1st Cape Parliament (18541858)
2nd Cape Parliament (18591863)
3rd Cape Parliament (18641869) ended by dissolution by the
British Governor
4th Cape Parliament (18701873)
5th Cape Parliament (18741878)
6th Cape Parliament (18791883)
7th Cape Parliament (18841888)
8th Cape Parliament (18891893)
9th Cape Parliament (18941898) ended by unsuccessful appeal to country by Prime Minister Sprigg
10th Cape Parliament (18981903) ended by unsuccessful appeal to country by Prime Minister Sprigg
11th Cape Parliament (19041907) ended by unsuccessful appeal to country by Prime Minister Jameson
12th Cape Parliament (19081910) ended by the act of Union (31 May 1910)
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
Speakers of the Cape Parliament (18541910)
Sir Christoffel Brand (18541873)
Sir David Tennant (18741895)
Sir Henry Juta (18961898)
Sir Bisset Berry (18991907)
Sir James Molteno (19081910)
Ministries of the Cape of Good Hope (18721910)
The parliament's executive governments ("Ministries") dated only from 1872, when the Cape first attained
responsible government. Prior to that parliament worked under a Governor, who was appointed by the British
Colonial Office in London.
No. Name Party Assumed office Left office
1 Sir John Charles Molteno Independent 1 December 1872 5 February 1878
2 Sir John Gordon Sprigg Independent 6 February 1878 8 May 1881
3 Thomas Charles Scanlen Independent 9 May 1881 12 May 1884
4 Thomas Upington Independent 13 May 1884 24 November 1886
Sir John Gordon Sprigg (2nd time) Independent 25 November 1886 16 July 1890
5 Cecil John Rhodes Independent 17 July 1890 3 May 1893
Cecil John Rhodes (2nd time) Independent 4 May 1893 12 January 1896
Sir John Gordon Sprigg (3rd time) Independent 13 January 1896 13 October 1898
6 William Philip Schreiner Independent 13 October 1898 17 June 1900
Sir John Gordon Sprigg (4th time) Progressive Party 18 June 1900 21 February 1904
7 Leander Starr Jameson Progressive Party 22 February 1904 2 February 1908
8 John Xavier Merriman South African Party 3 February 1908 31 May 1910
The post of prime minister of the Cape Colony also became extinct on 31 May 1910, when it joined the Union of
South Africa.
Political parties
For much of the Cape's history, the parliament operated without formal political parties. Instead, parliamentarians
aligned temporarily according to specific issues. Nonetheless, informal parties began to form according to the
constituencies overall attitude to long-standing issues, such as Responsible Government, the multi-racial franchise,
territorial expansion, separatism and relations with the British Empire.
In the 1860s and early 70s, an alliance of parliamentarians came together in support of "Responsible Government".
These parliamentarians distrusted British imperial rule; desired greater local independence; sought a greater focus on
internal development rather than imperial expansion; and professed a strong commitment to racial and regional unity
throughout the Cape. Prominent leaders were William Porter, Saul Solomon and John Molteno. This alliance later
became known as the "Westerners" due to their headquarters in Cape Town.
Opposing them were a group of parliamentarians representing mainly white, British constituencies in the Eastern
Cape near the frontier. Close to the neighbouring Xhosa lands, these politicians represented their constituents' fears
of the more numerous Xhosa. They tended to support more direct British imperial rule, stronger policies regarding
border defence and imperial expansion into Africa to open up lands for white settlement. They resented the political
dominance of the more "liberal" Westerners and saw the solution to be a separate white "Eastern Cape Colony"
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
under direct British rule, with Port Elizabeth as its capital. For much of this time they were led by the representative
of Port Elizabeth, John Paterson. They were known as the "Easterners" or "Separatists".
In 1872, the Molteno Ministry brought together a broad alliance, run on liberal principles but incorporating several
easterners and support from the Cape's Afrikaner and Black communities. Molteno's policies effectively
extinguished the separatist movement, but the Eastern political bloc nonetheless survived and later came to power
after the 1878 British takeover, when its new leader John Gordon Sprigg was appointed Prime Minister by the
British Governor.
A key event was the founding of the Afrikaner Bond in 1881. This was the Cape's first formal political party, headed
by Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr (Onze Jan), and taking a strong stance for Afrikaner ("Cape Dutch") rights and against the
political empowerment of the Cape's Black citizens. The formation of the Bond severely weakened the liberal
"Westerners" by splitting the western bloc, and beginning their decline. The resulting three parties aligned differently
according to the predominant issues of the day, with the Afrikaner Bond playing a central role as "King-maker": The
Westerners and the Bond agreed on the need to minimise British intervention in southern Africa, while the
Easterners and the Bond agreed on further restricting the rights of the Cape's Black citizens.
The easterners were by now known as "Progressives", and this pro-imperialist movement reached the height of its
power under Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes's orchestration of the Jameson Raid sharply polarised the Cape's
politics for the first time.
William Schreiner(centre, seated) with South
African Party leaders, and activists, including
John Tengo Jabavu, Walter Rubusana and
Abdurahman in the delegation which lobbied the
London Convention on Union for the multi-racial
The remaining liberal "westerners" formed the "South African Party"
but were too weak to oppose Rhodes's Progressives alone, and so allied
with the Afrikaner Bond to fight Rhodes's dominance. This
controversial alliance with the racist Bond caused many of the South
African Party's black voters to abandon it. It came to power briefly
under its liberal leader William Schreiner but overall the ensuing
decades were dominated by the Progressive Party. In 1908, John X
Merriman finally led the South African Party to electoral victory, a
mere two years before the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910.
After Union, the South African Party merged with the Afrikaner Bond,
Het Volk of the Transvaal and Orangia Unie of the Orange Free State,
to form a new Union-wide South African Party. After this merger, the
policies of the larger Afrikaner parties came to predominate and the
distinctive liberalness of the original South African Party was
subsumed, as South Africa began its long slide into Apartheid. Meanwhile, the Progressives (renamed the "Union
Party of the Cape") merged with the Progressive Association of the Transvaal and the Constitutional Party of the
Orange Free State to form the Unionist Party.
The Democratic Alliance traces its origins to these parties through
numerous successors.
[1] RFM Immelman: Men of Good Hope, 1804-1954. CTCC: Cape Town, 1955. Chapter 6 The Anti-convict Agitation. p.154.
[2] http:/ / newhistory.co. za/ part-2-chapter-5-the-making-of-the-liberal-cape-the-anti-convict-agitation-south-africa-s-first-mass-movement/
[3] http:/ / www. archive. org/ stream/ oldcapehousebein00kilpiala/ oldcapehousebein00kilpiala_djvu. txt
[4] http:/ / www. freemasonrysd. co. za/ index.php?option=com_content& view=article&
id=546%3Alodge-de-goede-hoop-and-the-cape-house-of-assembly& catid=46%3Aover-200-years-of-history& Itemid=66
[5] http:/ / www. andrewcusack. com/ 2009/ 11/ 03/ die-parlementsgebou/
[6] http:/ / www. capetown. at/ heritage/ history/ british.htm
[7] P. A. Molteno: The life and times of Sir John Charles Molteno, K. C. M. G., First Premier of Cape Colony, Comprising a History of
Representative Institutions and Responsible Government at the Cape. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1900
[8] [8] JL. McCracken: The Cape Parliament. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 1967. p.28.
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope
[9] http:/ / ancestry24. com/ articles/ lutheran/
[10] Phyllis Lewsen: The First Crises in Responsible Government in the Cape Colony. University of The Witwatersrand / Argief-jaarboek vir
Suid-Afrikaanse geskiedenis. 1940/3.
[11] http:/ / www.artefacts. co. za/ main/ Buildings/ archframes. php?archid=648
[12] P. Lewsen (ed.): Selections from the Correspondence of J.X. Merriman. Cape Town: Van Riebeek Soc. 1963.
[13] http:/ / www.nelsonmandela. org/ omalley/ index.php/ site/ q/ 03lv01538/ 04lv01646/ 05lv01703. htm
[14] http:/ / www.anc. org. za/ show.php?id=4605
[15] http:/ / www.eisa.org. za/ WEP/ soubg2.htm
[16] http:/ / www.sa-venues.com/ attractionswc/ parliament. htm
[17] A.L. Harrington: The Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope, with special reference to party politics 1872-1910. Government Printer, 1973.
[18] http:/ / husky1. stmarys. ca/ ~wmills/ course322/ 8Cape_Liberalism. html
Article Sources and Contributors
Article Sources and Contributors
Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=614986676 Contributors: Abu Shawka, Good Olfactory, Htonl, Kateshortforbob, Magioladitis,
Ohconfucius, Quiensabe, Tim!, Ulric1313, 2 anonymous edits
Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors
File:1854 opening of the 1st Cape Parliament - Cape Archives.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:1854_opening_of_the_1st_Cape_Parliament_-_Cape_Archives.jpg
License: Public Domain Contributors: Abu Shawka, NJR ZA
File:Cape Colony Legislative Council Chamber - 1875.png Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Cape_Colony_Legislative_Council_Chamber_-_1875.png License: Public
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File:John Molteno and Saul Solomon preside over Cape Government - Zingari cartoon 1873.jpg Source:
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File:JT Jabavu - A Abdurahman - W Schreiner - W Rubusana and other Cape politicians of anti-South Africa Act delegation.jpg Source:
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