Cape Colony
Flag of the Cape Colony
Coat of arms of the Cape Colony
Motto: Spes Bona (Latin)
(Good Hope)
Location of the Cape Colony
Location in Southern Africa
and largest city
Cape Town
Official languages English
Demonym Cape Colonial
Government Unitary constitutional monarchy
• Queen
Elizabeth II
Jeffrey Coaker
Leonard Christianson
Legislature Cape Parliament
Regional Council
Common Council
• Dutch occupation
1652-1795, 1803-1806
• British occupation
1795-1803, 1806-1814
• British colony
11 December 1931
• 2014 census
Currency Cape pound (CPD)
Time zone GMT+2
• Summer (DST)
Date format yyyy-mm-dd
Drives on the left
Internet TLD .cp
The Cape Colony (commonly simply called the Cape) is a sovereign Commonwealth realm located in Southern Africa. The Cape is bordered to the north by South West Africa, the Republic of Bechuanaland, the Free States of Orange-Transvaal and the Kingdom of Zululand, from west to east. It is the southernmost country in Africa and is the only country to border both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. This has given the Cape the nickname "the Tip of Africa".

Formerly a British colony, the Cape "Colony" achieved full independence with the passage of the Statute of Westminster by the British Parliament in 1931. The Cape is a member of the British Commonwealth and has retained the British Monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) as its head of state. The Queen is represented by the Governor General in the Cape, who executes the Queen's largely ceremonial roles. The Cape Colonial Government, as it is known, is led by the Prime Minister. The Cape Parliament is the legislative branch of government, and the Cape Colonial Court acts as the judicial branch. The Progressive Party, in coalition with the Cape Party, currently controls the government. It is opposed largely by the Radical Front for the Africanization of the Cape (RF-AZC) and several smaller parties. The current Prime Minister is Leonard Christianson, the Cape's second black Prime Minister.

The Cape Colony has a distinctively Western European culture and society. Like in Britain, slavery was abolished in 1833, and the Colonial Government has since responsible government in 1872 made great advances in achieving equal rights between the white British and Afrikaner population and the native black African population. Today, the law makes no distinction between racial groupings and equal protection of the law is firmly entrenched. This political culture which came about in the mid-nineteenth century became known as the "Cape Liberal Tradition", which is still part and parcel of the Cape political dynamic. This atmosphere of political equality and rights however was achieved in a largely European context, and has therefore left many natives discontented. The Cape and much of the Cape's society do not consider themselves "of Africa", but an extension of Europe in Africa.

The Cape's economy is considered to be one of the healthiest in Africa. The standard of living in the Colony is comparatively higher than other African states, including the largely Westernized Orange-Transvaal to the northwest. Orange-Transvaal evacuated its entire black native population in 1910 when the British Parliament unified the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal Colony into the Union of Orange-Transvaal. The Cape government at the time, at the behest of the electorate, intervened and allowed the evacuating natives who wished it to become Cape Colonial citizens. Many, however, opted to move to other "more African" neighboring states which accepted them. Those who moved to the Cape gave the country a large cheap labor force boost which contributed to the strong economy of today.

The Cape is considered to have one of, if not the best, human rights record on the continent. Its mixed market economy respects private property rights to a large degree and the population enjoys wide civil and political liberties. The Colony is an active participant in both the United Nations and the African Union. It is also known for its foreign aid to smaller African nations, as well as its relatively cozy economic relationship with its neighbors.


Dutch and British periods

Increased autonomy

National Convention and referendum

Twentieth century

Shortly after the British Parliament passed the Cape Act in 1910, Prime Minister John X. Merriman dissolved Parliament and scheduled a general election for August. This was to "ensure that our new found autonomy, rather independence, is legitimized fully with the election of a new government". The anti-imperialist South African Party consolidated the majority it won in 1908 from the Progressive Party and Merriman was subsequently reelected as Prime Minister. This first dominion election was an important event in the Cape's history as it started what became known as the "Divergence Era" - the period after the Cape Act when the Colony moved away from the traditional British approach to politics and started to enact certain controversial policy reform programs.

The South African Party itself also experienced change during this time. In 1912 its general council approved a merger with the Afrikaner Bond, another prominent anti-imperialist political group in Southern Africa, to form the Cape Party. The SAP and the Bond's seats in Parliament therefore went on to strengthen its majority over the staunchly pro-British Progressives. The Afrikaner Bond's two other branches - in the Transvaal Colony and Orange River Colony respectively - also merged with one another when the Union of Orange-Transvaal was formed. They were joined by Het Volk of the Transvaal and the Orangia Unie (Orange Union) party of the Orange River Colony, to finally form the Republican Party in Orange-Transvaal.

The Progressive Party, after losing its second consecutive election, also sought to increase its influence and popularity in the region. The executive committee voted in late 1912 to cut down on its formerly unapologetic pro-British stances and take a more "local" approach to issues. Whilst it did absorb other political associations in the period 1913 to 1915, it kept the "Progressive" name. In mid-1913, the party entered into a regional pact with the Constitutional Party of Orange-Transvaal (itself a pro-British party resulting from various mergers). This gave the Progressive Party a slight popularity boost. Merriman remained as Prime Minister for his full first term (the two years in office prior to the Cape Act were discounted by law) until August 1916, when he was replaced by Oliver Jones of the Progressive Party. The Progressives took 48 of the 100 seats in Parliament and elected Jones with the assistance of three independents.

The Jones government did not go back on the prior Progressive promise to cut back on its imperialist policies, and continued with several Cape Party programs aimed at local development and pursing a foreign policy that doesn't strictly correspond with that of Great Britain's. This was however, obviously halted with the outbreak of the First World War, when the Cape Colony entered into the war on the side of the Allied Powers. The Cape, along with Bechuanaland, were instructed to invade and occupy German South West Africa, and unified their forces as a consequence.

The roughly 10,000 German militiamen were no match for the 50,000-man professional brigades of the Cape and Bechuanaland. German South West Africa was defeated and occupied within a year by July 1915. The territory became a League of Nations mandate under Cape administration, and remained as such until 1946, when the United Nations and the Cape awarded South West Africa its independence. The territory, during the Cape administration, was not forced to integrate with Cape society and culture. A formal border was erected and citizens were still required to follow the ordinary process of international travel when going to and from South West Africa. Its legal and political systems were left largely untouched.

Many black inhabitants of South West Africa saw the occupation by Allied forces as an opportunity to formally request independence, which was lodged with the Cape Military Governor, James Mitchell on 2 August 1915. Mitchell, having been from a long line and tradition of strict military officers, did not consider the request nor did he forward it to his superiors in Cape Town. Many agree that the request for independence would have been denied in any case however Mitchell's contempt is seen as having been an aggravating factor. This led to the establishment of the Native Nationalist Movement in Windhoek on 4 September 1915, which was spearheaded by prominent Cape Nguni nationalist Ayabonga Dalasile with the support and consent of his South West African allies. The NNM's formal objectives at the time were to "establish an independent state for the Africans in German South West Africa" and to "combat continued Western imperialism insofar as it hinders African progress".

The Native Nationalist Movement was a nonviolent activist group and was, at least initially, condoned by the Military Government and Cape Town, both of which were focusing on the War. The government of Orange-Transvaal was requested to dispatch a force of 100,000 to German East Africa in late 1914, however having received many autonomous powers in 1910, declined, and recused itself from the War entirely. With both the Cape and Bechuanaland occupied in South West Africa and the Natal Colony not having enough resources to commit to the operation, it was mostly delayed. Forces from the British possessions of Rhodesia, Uganda and India were utilized to keep the Germans busy while reinforcements from the south were temporarily unavailable.

In January 1916, Mitchell dispatched some 110,000 troops made up of the professional Cape and Bechuanaland forces, as well as volunteers from Orange-Transvaal and Natal north. They were joined by forces from the Belgian Congo and Portuguese Mozambique. This force was the only the southern possessions could spare and no further significant amounts of reinforcements were sent to join the War on the part of the Cape. German East Africa was officially defeated when Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck surrendered on 23 November 1918, twelve days after the War ended in Europe. The Southern African force lost around 16,000 soldiers.

The end of the First World War signaled another opportunity for black Africans to assert their right to independent statehood in South West Africa. A march of 70,000 strong took place in central Windhoek on 22 January 1919 wherein Ayabonga Dalasile personally handed the NNM's memorandum of demand to Mitchell. The local press was present at the affair and it was widely reported throughout the Cape and much of the Western world. Mitchell, having no other option, agreed to hand the request to the central government in Cape Town. The idea of full independence was rejected within a week, however, the Cape government issued a counteroffer - while South West Africa will remain under Cape administration until such a time as the League of Nations mandate expires, the black citizenry of the country may have a say in the manner in which they are governed. It was made clear that South West Africans, white Germans included, would not receive representation in the Cape Parliament. Instead, the SWA Advisory Council was established by an Act of Parliament, wherein black citizens would elect 15 of the 20 seats, and white citizens would elect the remaining 5. They would advise the Military Governor and the Cape Town central government on matters concerning their governance. The Native Nationalist Movement took all 15 seats, while the seats reserved for the whites were occupied by independents.

  • interwar
  • ww2

Recent history

Government and politics

Main article: Politics of the Cape Colony

The Cape Colony's governance structure is divided into three separate branches, namely the Cape Colonial Government, which acts as the administrator of the State and the enforcer of law, the Cape Parliament, which acts as the maker of law and the overseer of government, and the Cape Colonial Court, which adjudicates matters in the Colony's criminal justice system as well as civil disputes, and interprets and applies law. The Cape, following British tradition, does not have a codified constitution, therefore, Parliament is unofficially supreme. The judiciary however does have the power to invalidate an Act of Parliament based on certain conventions and tests developed throughout the years.

The Colony is unique in the Western world in that essentially all the role players in the democratic government acknowledge and adhere to what has come to be called the "Cape Liberal Tradition". While rejected as an "official state ideology", the Cape Liberal Tradition is a political culture which has come encompass the ideas of tolerance, freedom, equality and dignity. It was due to this culture that the Cape outright rejected joining the other Southern African British colonies in a unified "South Africa" in 1910. The other colonies, having been dominated by Afrikaners who had trekked to the north to flee British influence, were characterized for their opposition to racial equality and religious freedom.

Law and justice

Main article: Law of the Cape Colony

The Cape primarily follows the inherited system of British common law, however is slightly tempered by elements of Roman Dutch civil law, which came about during the Dutch period of the Colony's history. The sources of law in the Cape are: Acts of Parliament, case judgments and custom. The Cape Parliament is the only law making body in the Cape and is responsible for enacting legislation. The Cape Colonial Court plays a role in law creation through its statutory interpretation, which gives ad hoc meaning to the words of Parliament. Finally, custom and convention, which usually has to do with the bones mores of the community, also forms part of Cape law, however is trumped by both legislation and case law. The Cape Liberal Tradition is part of the customary law.

According to sources around the Cape Liberal Tradition, the rule of law, equal protection and due process all form integral elements to the Cape's system of justice.

Administrative divisions

The Colony is divided into five districts, which in turn are divided into local governments. Being a unitary state rather than a federation, all regional policies are formulated by the national government in Cape Town. The five districts and their district seats are -

  • Good Hope District - Cape Town
  • Griqualand East District - Umtata
  • Great Bushmanland District - Port Nolloth
  • Great Karoo District - Beaufort West
  • Port Elizabeth District - Port Elizabeth


Main article: Cape Colonial National Guard

The military of the Cape Colony is known officially as the Cape Colonial National Guard. It is a unified force, therefore does not consist of independent branches. The National Guard is led by the Secretary of the National Guard, a military officer and the only bearer of the rank of "General". He is, in turn, accountable to the Minister of State for National Security, who is the civilian head of the Department of National Security.

The head of state, i.e. the Queen, is the Commander in Chief of the National Guard, however, this duty is customarily and by convention delegated to Prime Minister. As an exception, however, the Governor General (who acts as the representative of the Queen), is empowered to appoint the Secretary of the National Guard. As a balance on this power, the Prime Minister appoints the Minister of State for National Security.

The National Guard is statutorily limited to a size of 100,000 active combatant personnel. This portion of the Guard is known as the Permanent Force. Conscription is provided for by law however can only be activated in the event of a state of national defense (meaning, conscription is not strictly possible for foreign offenses). This component, when active, is known as the Citizen Force. Currently, the National Guard's ground force stands 60,000 strong, while naval personnel number around 10,000, and air force personnel around 20,000.

Foreign relations

The Cape Colony's foreign policy doctrine is one of "peace, friendship and trade". The Colony generally follows the foreign policy of the United Kingdom and the United States however outright rejects foreign military intervention without a solid mandate from the international community. The Colony has also consistently refused to take part in trade embargoes or sanctions. Its approach to sanctions has been noted as unique, however - the Cape Department of the Exterior rates nations on a scale from "free" (1) to "oppressive" (10). A nation considered "free" will be subject to much fewer trade barriers and tariffs than a nation considered "oppressive". The rating of nations is subject to judicial oversight and scrutiny, and some foreign nations (mostly African) have sued the government to have its rating upgraded.



The Cape's population consists of 4 racial groups - the white Cape Anglo (the direct descendants of the British), the mixed race Cape Colored, the black Cape Nguni and the white Afrikaner (descendants of mostly Dutch, French and German settlers). The racial demographics of the Cape Colony are as follows -

  • Cape Anglo - 48%
  • Cape Colored - 24%
  • Cape Nguni - 21%
  • Afrikaner - 5%
  • Other - 2%


Christianity was inherited from both the Dutch and British as the dominant religion in the Cape Colony. Cape law explicitly entrenches freedom of religion and separation of church and state, however, there are dominant churches which have at least unofficial government support. Christianity in the Cape is divided into two main denominations, namely Anglican (which accounts for 71% of Christians) and Calvinist (which accounts for 26% of Christians). The remaining 3% of Christians are generally nondenominational.

Due to the number of Middle Eastern immigrants in the Cape, Islam is the second largest religious group. Atheism/Agnosticism stands as the third largest group, with Judaism and Hinduism as the two smallest groups.

The religious demographics of the Colony are as follows -

  • Christianity - 72%
    • Anglican - 51.12%
    • Calvinist - 18.72%
  • Islam - 11%
  • Atheism/Agnosticism - 8%
  • Judaism - 5%
  • Hinduism - 4%


English is the overwhelmingly dominant language in the Cape Colony and is used almost exclusively in the political and economic affairs of the country. The minority languages are usually only used informally or in cultural settings or associations.

The linguistic demographics of the Cape are as follows -

  • English - 89%
  • Afrikaans - 6%
  • Xhosa - 3%
  • Other - 2%


Political culture

Cape Colonials are described as being mostly moderate to socially liberal and highly supportive of a specific brand of mixed market economy. It is for this reason that the majority of citizens vote either for the Progressive Party or the Cape Party. The Progressives advocate for increasingly socially liberal policies and a mixed market, while the Cape Party is heavily involved with developing rural communities economically and strengthening ties with the Cape's neighbors. The Progressives and the Cape Party are joined in a time tested coalition. The Cape Liberal Tradition plays a large role in influencing the views of the community and in vice versa.

The Cape enjoys a healthy patriotic population. This should however not be confused with ethnic nationalism. Cape Colonials are tolerant and welcoming to immigrants and foreigners but, unlike much of Europe, have staunchly resisted multiculturalism that would break the Cape Liberal Tradition. The ruling coalition therefore rejects enforcing or even recognizing tribal or religious law or marriage. Cultural and religious practices must be exercised within the confines of the Cape's objective law.


The Cape Colony has a developed media sector, ranging from domestic films to well selling magazines by for profit companies. The government takes a nonintervention stance on media industries as it believes this promotes free speech, free expression and cultural freedom. There is no government run public broadcaster, however the government does own a monthly newspaper, the Cape Mail, which keeps the population updated on legislative and executive policy and law.

CtTv and The Colonial Network (TCN) are the two major television providers in the Cape and offer a large variety of channels. CtTv, owned by the EcruFox Media Group of Africa, offers mostly foreign content, especially from the United States. TCN, which is owned by Capetonian, has in recent years tried to migrate most of its offerings to "Cape content" - domestic programs. There are a further three smaller networks which appeal to specific groupings - the Afrikaans VermaakNetwerk (Entertainment Network) and the Xhosa XCTV.



See also