Voting information in South Africa is a delicate situation that has changed drastically in the last 150 years. The franchise is closely related to and interwoven with the constitutional system which forms the basis of the South African state and is based on the British pattern. This is the reason why the position in the Cape and Natal differed from that in the Transvaal and Orange Free State. After the establishment of British rule at the Cape in 1806 and in Natal in 1843, it was natural that constitutional development followed the British pattern, first through representative and then responsible government.
Voter’s records can be access at the National Archives and as well as the main public libraries – if you need help in looking up voters records, please contact me.
It is understandable that in the colonies the principle of general franchise for all adult males, as adopted in Britain, was applied as a fundamental right: no discrimination on the basis of race or colour was made.
When the Cape Colony achieved representative government in 1853, all male persons complying with the following qualifications could be registered as voters: those who had occupied, for a period of twelve months building which alone or with the ground on which it stood was worth at least £25;those who had, for a period of twelve months, earned a salary or wages amounting to at least £50 per annum.no none one was entitled to registration, however, unless he had reached the full age of 21 years and was a British subject.
If he had been declared mentally deficient or been found guilty of high treason, murder, theft or other serious crime, registration was withheld. The qualifications for voters remained unchanged until 1887, but after the annexation of the Transkeian territories they were made more stringent in order to restrict the political influence of the Bantu. The £25 property qualification was raised to £50.
In 1892 this was increased to £75 and an additional qualification was introduced to the effect that a person could not be registered as a voter unless he was able to sign his name and write down his address and occupation. These qualifications for voters remained in force in the Cape Province until 1931. When representative government was granted to Natal in 1856, provision was made in the constitution for electoral facilities which coincided in large measure with those of the Cape. Nine years later the requirements to be complied with by Natives in Natal before they could be registered as voters were made very exacting, as the granting of a Native’s right to vote was left to the discretion of the Governor; Natives were virtually excluded from the franchise. In 1896 the franchise of Asiatics was restricted by a provision withholding registration from descendants of persons from countries which at that time did not possess representative institutions based on the parliamentary franchise. In the O.F.S. and Transvaal the franchise was always limited to White people.
The Orange Free State constitution of 1854 merely laid down that ˜every citizen shall have the right to vote” Citizens were White inhabitants who had lived in the Orange Free State for six months. In 1866 those entitled to vote were deemed as White adult male citizens who: were born in the State; owned fixed property of an untaxed value of at least £150; were the lessees of property with an annual rental of £36; had a fixed annual income of at least £200; or owned movable assets worth £300 and had lived in the State for three years. In 1898 it was further decreed that citizens would be deprived of their vote if found guilty of certain crimes.
In the Transvaal the Constitution of 1858 provided that every “White male citizen aged 21 years or over was entitled to vote, subject to his being a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. In the same year, however, this religious qualification was amended to read ‘irrespective of his religious persuasion”. In 1890 the age qualification was reduced to 16 years, presumably to counterbalance the Uitlanders who were becoming naturalised in large numbers. After the annexation of the O.F.S. and the Transvaal the qualifications for voters in these colonies were amended to extend the franchise to every male White British subject aged 21 or over, provided that he had been resident for at least six months in the electoral division in which he applied for registration. The position in 1910 when the four provinces were united was accordingly that in the O.F.S. and Transvaal only White males could be registered as voters without complying with any educational requirements.
In Natal, Coloureds and Whites could be registered without qualifications, while in the Cape all enjoyed the franchise, irrespective of race or colour, if they could comply with the property and educational requirements. All this remained in force until 1931 when Whites in the Cape Province were released from the property and educational qualifications. By that time women’s franchise had been granted (in 1930) to all adult White women in the four provinces. The qualifications for non-Whites in the Cape and Natal remained unchanged. When the Separate Representation of Voters Act came into force in 1956, Coloured voters in the Cape Province were placed on a separate roll. Non-Whites in Natal, however, were retained on the same role as the Whites, but in the event of a non-White becoming disqualified for registration his name had to be removed from the roll and could thereafter not be restored to it. Nor was any non-White entitled to be registered as a voter in Natal after the effective date of this Act. The Separate Representation Act also made provision for a Union Council for Coloured Affairs, consisting of 12 elected and 1 nominated non-White members. The elected members were elected by the non-White registered voters in the 4 Coloured constituencies in the Cape Province (members for every constituency).
The State President nominated 8 non-White members of the Council for the Cape Province, 2 for Natal, 1 for the O.F.S. and 4 for the Transvaal. The functions of the Union Council of Coloured Affairs are to advise the Government on matters affecting the economic, social, educational and political interests of the Coloured people’s; to recommend projects calculated to serve the best interests of the said population; to act as an intermediary between the Government and the said population and to carry out certain statutory or other administrative functions assigned to the Council. It is compulsory for every White citizen aged 18 or over to register as a voter. No one is registered in an electoral division unless he has actually resided there on the date of completion of his application. Nor is any person entitled to be registered as a voter or to cast a vote if he has been found guilty of: high treason or murder; any other crime and been sentenced to imprisonment without the option of a fine; and if he has been declared insane by a court.
Since 1968 it is compulsory for non-Whites to register as voters, without any qualifications. Previously, in the Cape Province, a Coloured male aged 21 or over had to comply with the following requirements: he must be able to sign his name and to write his address and occupation, and he must have occupied a house or building worth at least R150.00 for a period of twelve months; or have earned an income of at least R20.00 for a period of twelve months; or be in possession of a license to dig for diamonds in the Cape Province. In Natal a non-White male had to comply with the following requirements: he must be the owner of fixed property to the value of at least R100 or be the lessee of fixed property at an annual rental of at least R20; or he must have an income of at least R192 per annum and must have resided in the Republic for at least three years. No Native was qualified for registration as a voter in Natal, unless he was in possession of a certificate issued by the State President authorising such registration.
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