Senate of South Africa

Senate of South Africa

between 1910 and 1981, and between 1994 and 1997.


Under white minority rule in the Union of South Africa, most of the Senators were chosen by an electoral college consisting of Members of each of the four Provincial Councils and Members of the House of Assembly (the lower house of Parliament, directly elected). The remaining Senators were appointed by the Governor General of the Union on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Senate's presiding officer was called the President, whereas his counterpart in the House of Assembly was the Speaker.

In 1958, Nationalist Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd wanted to amend one of the entrenched clauses in the Constitution, and remove voting rights from Coloureds, but his party did not have a two-thirds majority in the Senate enabling him to do this. Consequently, he nominated large numbers of party supporters to be appointed as Senators, thereby ensuring a majority in the upper house, and the change to the Constitution.

The Senate reverted to its original size, and its composition remained unchanged by the declaration of the Republic of South Africa in 1961, except that the State President took the role of the Governor-General in appointing Senators. The President of the Senate was able to serve as acting State President.

In 1980, Prime Minister P.W Botha began a process of constitutional reform, and the Senate was abolished with effect from 1981. Some former Senators became members of an enlarged House of Assembly, chosen by the elected members. The President's Council, an advisory body consisting of white, coloured and Asian members only, occupied the former Senate chamber. In 1984, the chamber was converted for use as the House of Representatives, reserved for coloureds under the tricameral system. Black South Africans remained excluded from the political process.


Under the country's first non-racial Constitution in 1994, the Senate was once again the upper house of a bicameral parliament, the lower house being the National Assembly. It was indirectly elected by members of each of the nine Provincial Legislatures, with each province having ten Senators. In 1997, the Senate was replaced by a National Council of Provinces (NCoP), which retained the former Senate's membership, although changed its legislative and constitutional role.

Presidents of the Senate of South Africa (1910-1980) and (1994-1997)

*1910-1921 Francis William Reitz
*1921-1929 H.C. van Heerden
*1929-1930 R.A. Kerr
*1930-1940 Christiaan Andries van Niekerk (1st time)
*1940-1941 François Stephanus Malan
*1942-1945 Philippus Arnoldus Myburgh
*1946-1948 P.J. Wessels
*1948-1961 Christiaan Andries van Niekerk (2nd time)
*1961-1969 Jozua François Naudé
*1969-1976 Johannes de Klerk
*1976-1979 Marais Viljoen
*1979-1980 Jimmy Kruger

*1994-1997 Kobie Coetsee

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