Slike strani
PDF
ePub

administered without respect of persons and that every resident shall be held bound to obey it, while articles 60, 61, and 62 guarantee the rights of property, of personal liberty, and of press freedom.

It will be convenient to defer general criticisms upon the frame of government established by this Constitution till we have examined that of the sister republic of the Transvaal, which agrees with it in many respects. But we may here briefly note, before passing further, a few remarkable features of the present instrument.

1. It is a Rigid constitution, i.e. one which cannot be changed in the same way and by the same authority as that whereby the ordinary law is changed, but which must be changed in some specially prescribed form-in this case, by a three-fourths majority of the Volksraad in two successive sessions 1.

2. The body of the people do not come in as a voting power, save for the election of the President and Commandant-General. All other powers, even that of amending the constitution, belong to the Volksraad.

3. There is only one legislative chamber.

4. The President has no veto on the acts of the legislature.

5. The President has the right of sitting in and addressing the legislature.

6. The President's Council is not of his own choosing, but is given him by the legislature.

7. The heads of the executive departments sit neither in the Council nor in the legislature.

8. The legislature may apparently reverse any and every act of the President, save those (pardon of offences

· As to Rigid Constitutions, see Essay III.

and declaration of martial law) specially given to him and the Executive Council.

American readers will have noted for themselves some few points in this Constitution which have been drawn from that of the United States. Others are said to have been suggested by the Constitution framed for the French Republic in 1848. Comparatively few controversies upon the construction of the Constitution have been debated with any warmth. One, which gave rise to a difference of opinion between the Volksraad and the Supreme Court of the state, arose upon the question whether the Volksraad has power to punish a citizen for contempt by committing him to prison for a long term, and to direct the State Attorney to prosecute him. The judges disapproved what they deemed an unconstitutional stretching of authority by the legislature. Using the opportunities of influencing public opinion which the delivery of charges to juries gave them, they ultimately so affected the mind of the people that the Volksraad tacitly retired from its position, leaving the question of right undetermined.

III. CONSTITUTION OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLIC.

The South African Republic, or Transvaal State as it is popularly called, is ruled by a much longer, much less clear, and much less systematically arranged document than that established by its sister commonwealth ?. A considerable part of the contents of this constitution is indeed unfit, as too minute, for a fundamental instru

'I have to thank my friend Mr. J. G. Kotzé, late Chief Justice of the South African Republic, for information kindly supplied to me regarding certain points in this Constitution.

a

ment of government; and, whatever the intention of its framers may have been, it has not in fact been treated as a fundamental instrument. Whether it is really such, in strict contemplation of law, is a question often discussed in professional circles in Pretoria and Johannesburg. I shall summarize the more important of its provisions—they occupy two hundred and thirtytwo articles-and endeavour therewith to present an outline of the frame of government which they establish.

The Grondwet (Ground-law) or Constitution was drafted by a committee of an assembly of delegates and approved by the assembly itself in February, 1858. It is in Dutch, but has been translated into English more than once.

Article 6 declares the territory of the republic open to every stranger who submits himself to the laws-a provision noteworthy in view of recent events—and declares all persons within the territory equally entitled to the protection of person and property.

Article 8 states, inter alia, that the people 'permit the spread of the Gospel among the heathen, subject to prescribed provisions against the practice of fraud and deception'; a provision upon whose intention light is thrown by the suspicions felt by the Boers of the English missionaries. Article 9 declares that 'the people will not tolerate

9 equality between coloured and white inhabitants either in church or in state 1.

1 The Boers are a genuinely religious people, and read their Bibles. But they have shown little regard to 1 Corinthians xii. 13; Galatians iii. 28; and Colossians iii. II. The same may be said of the people of the Southern States of America ; and is indeed also true of the less religious English both in South Africa and in the West Indies.

Article 10 forbids slavery or dealing in slaves.
Article 19 grants the liberty of the press.

Articles 20 to 23 formerly declared that the people would maintain the principles of the doctrine of the Dutch Reformed Church, as fixed by the Synod of Dort in 1618 and 1619, that the Dutch Reformed Church shall be the Church of the State, that no persons shall be elected to the Volksraad who are not members of that Church, that no ecclesiastical authority shall be acknowledged save that of the consistories of that Church, and that no Roman Catholic Churches, nor any Protestant Churches save those which teach the doctrine of the Heidelberg Catechism, shall be permitted within the republic. But these archaic provisions were in the revised Grondwet of 1889 reduced to a declaration that only members of a Protestant Church should be elected

а to the Volksraad 1.

After these general provisions we come to the frame of government. Legislation is committed to a Volksraad, ' “the highest authority of the state.' It is to consist of at least twelve members (the number is at present twenty-four) who must be over thirty years of age and possess landed property. Each district returns an equal number of members. Residence within the district is not required of a candidate. The members were formerly elected for two years, and one-half retired annually. Their term was afterwards extended to four years. Every citizen who has reached the age of twentyone enjoys the suffrage ? (persons of colour are of course

2

i I am informed that even this restriction was abolished subsequently to 1895.

• The suffrage was by subsequent enactments restricted as respects immigrants and the sons of immigrants ; and in 1895 a person coming into the country could not obtain full electoral rights till after a period of twelve years. In July 1899, three months before the war which broke out in that year, the period was shortened to seven years owing to pressure by the British Government.

incapable of voting or of being elected). The unworkable provision of the old Grondwet that any matter discussed shall be decided by three-fourths of the votes' was subsequently repealed.

Three months are to be given to the people for intimating to the Volksraad their opinion on any proposed law, 'except laws which admit of no delay' ($ 12), but laws may be discussed whether published three months before their introduction or introduced during the session of the Volksraad (8 43). The sittings are to open and close with prayer, and are to be public, unless the chairman or the President of the Executive Council deems secrecy necessary.

If the high court of justice declares the President, or any member of the Executive Council, or the Commandant-General, unfit to fill his office, the Volksraad shall remove from office the person so declared unfit and shall provide for filling the vacant office.

The administration, as well as the proposal, of laws was by the old Grondwet given to an Executive Council (§ 13). The revised instrument vests it in the State President. The President is elected for five years by the citizens voting all over the country. He must have attained the age of thirty and be a member of a Protestant (formerly of the Dutch Reformed) Church (56). He is the highest officer of the state, and appoints all officials. All public servants, except those who administer justice, are subordinate to him and under his

a

« PrejšnjaNaprej »