It is generally agreed that the Cape Colony’s disenfranchisement legislation did what it set out to do: it drastically reduced the number of blacks who were eligible to vote.

However, we find that empirical support for this view is weak. We argue that disenfranchisement was not as effective as is claimed. We question the literature on black disenfranchisement in the late 19th-century Cape Colony. Using a surname-matching formula in combination with manual methods, we counted voters in the Cape Colony voters’ rolls between 1887 and 1909 and found that the number of blacks who lost the right to vote in 1887 is much smaller than the 30,000 that has been claimed. Our empirical evidence shows it to be around a tenth of that number. Conversely, the number of disenfranchised white and coloured voters is larger than expected. Ours is an important contribution, as no researcher to date has systematically gone through these voters’ rolls to provide empirical evidence to support or refute the claims about disenfranchisement. The lower than expected number of disenfranchised black voters may be due to their resistance to being stripped of the franchise. The larger than expected number of disenfranchised white and coloured voters may have been due to recession and white poverty.
Farai Nyika and Johan Fourie
Journal of Southern African Studies
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