oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - The Republican Constitution of 1961 revisited : a re-evaluation after fifty years

Volume 18, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1021-545X
  • E-ISSN: 2411-7870



On 31 May 2011 it was fifty years since the advent of the Republic of South Africa. This article examines the Republican Constitution of 1961 in the light of subsequent constitutional and political developments and in particular against the background and values contained and espoused in the democratic and non-racial Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

Whereas the 1961 Constitution brought about a significant political change, it did not, as the 1983 Constitution purported to do, initiate a process of constitutional reform. Nor did the Republican Constitution introduce any fundamental changes or reforms. Although the Republican Constitution of 1961, like the South Africa Act of 1909, appeared to be apolitically neutral instrument of government and was not specifically designed to reflect the philosophy and politics of separate development or institutionalised inequality, it was however an oligarchic and racist constitution, that facilitated white hegemony in an unambiguous way.
Afrikaner nationalism's great political and constitutional struggle against imperialism attained its goal when South Africa became a republic. This was therefore an event of singular political importance for white South Africans, but the price that the country paid was its ignominious departure from the Commonwealth.
Only with the advent of the Interim Constitution, following the first historic democratic election of 27 April 1994, did South Africa and its people obtain a democratic constitution within a republican framework, involving an entrenched Bill of Rights, with a democratically elected government. This article revisits and re-evaluates the Constitution of 1961 that brought into being a republic outside the Commonwealth.

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