Houses of Parliament, Cape Town
Did you know?
While Cape Town is South Africa’s legislative capital, the government’s administration is based in Pretoria.
One of the most delightful pedestrian thoroughfares in Cape Town is Government Avenue, where you are as likely to see a nut-munching squirrel as you are to see a passing politician on lunch break.
Strolling seawards past the lush Company’s Garden, you have the South African Library on your left and the rather grand Houses of Parliament on your right.
The original Parliament structure, complete with Corinthian porticos and a huge dome, was designed by Charles Freeman. The House of Assembly was the design of well-known architect, Sir Herbert Baker.
Built in 1885, the South African Houses of Parliament have since been 1 of the most dramatic political arenas in the world, at times rivalling even the British House of Lords for its lively debates.
In 1890 Cecil John Rhodes was elected prime minister of the Anglophile Cape Colony and he and his empire-building stalwarts occupied these halls of power for 5 years. In 1895 Rhodes, having backed the ill-fated Jameson Raid aimed at overthrowing President Paul Kruger’s gold-rich Transvaal, and was forced to resign his position.
The Houses of Parliament in Cape Town were witness to debates concerning the South African Anglo-Boer War, World War I, World War II and the political changing of the guard, from the United Party of General Jan Smuts to the National Party, whose brainchild was the loathed apartheid system.
In 1960, shortly before South Africa was declared a republic, the prime minister of Britain, Sir Harold MacMillan, made a speech in the South African Parliament that resounded around the world.
Dubbed the ‘Winds of Change speech’, it presaged Britain’s intent to free herself of her African colonies and ushered in a new era for the continent.
A scant 6 years later, there was high drama in the House of Assembly as a parliamentary messenger called Dimitri Tsafendas stabbed to death 1 of the grand masters of apartheid, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, prime minister of South Africa at the time.
Some of the most stirring events in the Houses of Parliament during the apartheid era took place when opposition party members stood up to hold the Nationalist government to account for the disastrous effects of apartheid.
In 1994, the Houses of Parliament were witness to yet another phase for South Africa when Nelson Mandela stood up as the president after the country’s 1st democratic elections.
Politics aside, some of the main features enjoyed by visitors to the Houses of Parliament today are the 4000-odd collected artworks on display.
They embrace a wide range of creativity throughout the generations that have passed, and include a busy landscape painting by the jaunty French explorer Francois le Vaillant, pieces of satire by Daniel Boonzaier, a portrait of General Smuts by Sir William Orpen and an enormous Keiskamma Tapestry woven by the women of the village of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape.