South Africa, Government
Inkatha Freedom Party, Statute of Westminster, interim constitution, British monarch, African National Congress
The 20th century has produced several fundamental governmental changes in South Africa. In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed as a largely autonomous dominion of Britain. Under the 1910 constitution, the British monarch was the nominal head of state, but authority over most matters was vested in a single-chamber parliament, headed by a prime minister. By the 1931 Statute of Westminster, South Africa and other dominions within the British Commonwealth were proclaimed fully autonomous, gaining equality status with Britain. In 1961 South Africa became a republic and left the Commonwealth. The 1961 constitution created the office of president as head of state. A new constitution in 1984 established a tricameral (three-house) parliament with white, Coloured, and Asian houses, but excluded the black majority altogether.
Lengthy constitutional negotiations in the early 1990s led to the implementation of an interim constitution in April 1994. These negotiations also resulted in agreement on a number of principles that would be binding during the negotiations for a final constitution. The final constitution was passed by parliament in May 1996 but was subsequently rejected by the Constitutional Court because certain provisions did not comply with the 1994 principles. A revised version was finally accepted in December 1996 and was implemented in stages between 1997 and 2000.
The new constitution gave considerable powers to the country’s nine provinces, a provision strongly sought by the National Party and by the Inkatha Freedom Party in KwaZulu-Natal. The African National Congress successfully resisted a fully federal constitution, however, securing the inclusion of broad clauses that allowed the central government to override the provinces. The constitution also includes a Bill of Rights, which is regarded as one of the most liberal in the world.
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