Apathied | Coloured vote constitutional crisis | white South Africans

The Coloured-vote constitutional crisis was a constitutional crisis that occurred in the Union of South Africa during the 1950s as the result of an attempt by the Nationalist government to remove Coloured voters in the Union's Cape Province from the common voters' rolls.


It developed into a dispute between Parliament and the executive, on the one hand, and the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, on the other hand, over the power of Parliament to amend an entrenched clause in the South Africa Act (the constitution) and the power of the Appellate Division to overturn the amendment as unconstitutional.

Apathied and Coloured vote constitutional crisis, white South Africans in 1950, D F Malan announced the NP's intention to create a Coloured Affairs Department. J.G. Strijdom, Malan's successor as Prime Minister, moved to strip voting rights from black and coloured residents of the Cape Province. The previous government had introduced the Separate Representation of Voters Bill into Parliament in 1951; however, four voters, G Harris, W D Franklin, W D Collins and Edgar Deane, challenged its validity in court with support from the United Party. The Cape Supreme Court upheld the act, but reversed by the Appeal Court, finding the act invalid because a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament was needed to change the entrenched clauses of the Constitution.  The government then introduced the High Court of Parliament Bill (1952), which gave Parliament the power to overrule decisions of the court. The Cape Supreme Court and the Appeal Court declared this invalid too.

In 1955 the Strijdom government increased the number of judges in the Appeal Court from five to 11, and appointed pro-Nationalist judges to fill the new places. In the same year they introduced the Senate Act, which increased the Senate from 49 seats to 89. Adjustments were made such that the NP controlled 77 of these seats.  The parliament met in a joint sitting and passed the Separate Representation of Voters Act in 1956, which transferred coloured voters from the common voters' roll in the Cape to a new coloured voters' roll. Immediately after the vote, the Senate was restored to its original size. The Senate Act was contested in the Supreme Court, but the recently enlarged Appeal Court, packed with government-supporting judges, upheld the act, and also the Act to remove coloured voters.
The 1956 law allowed Coloureds to elect four whites to Parliament, but a 1969 law abolished those seats and stripped Coloureds of their right to vote. Since Asians had never been allowed to vote, this resulted in whites being the sole enfranchised group.


Unity among white South Africans

Before South Africa became a republic, politics among white South Africans was typified by the division between the mainly Afrikaner pro-republic conservative and the largely English anti-republican liberal sentiments, with the legacy of the Boer War still a factor for some people. Once the status of a republic was attained, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd called for improved relations and greater accord between those of British descent and the Afrikaners. He claimed that the only difference now was between those who supported apartheid and those in opposition to it.


The ethnic divide would no longer be between Afrikaans speakers and English speakers, but rather white and black ethnicities. Most Afrikaners supported the notion of unanimity of white people to ensure their safety. White voters of British descent were divided. Many had opposed a republic, leading to a majority "no" vote in Natal. Later, some of them recognised the perceived need for white unity, convinced by the growing trend of decolonisation elsewhere in Africa, which concerned them. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's "Wind of Change" speech left the British faction feeling that Britain had abandoned them.


The more conservative English-speakers gave support to Verwoerd; others were troubled by the severing of ties with Britain and remained loyal to the Crown. They were acutely displeased at the choice between British and South African nationality. Although Verwoerd tried to bond these different blocs, the subsequent ballot illustrated only a minor swell of support, indicating that a great many English speakers remained apathetic, and that Verwoerd had not succeeded in uniting the white population, and a divide between Anglo and Afrikaner whites remained.