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Matters of customary law were heard by chiefs and headmen, with a right of appeal to the Native Appeal Court, staffed by magistrates.
Today, South Africa retains a plural legal system, with customary law remaining a legal system for those who wish to be subject to it.
Following this amalgamation, the legal systems of the four territories were made more consistent, partly through legislative innovation, and partly through the activities of the new Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the highest court country-wide in terms of the 1909 South Africa Act.
Today, many commentators regard the resulting legal system as a truly hybrid system, a mix of English common law and civilian Roman-Dutch legal principles.
Exclusive provincial legislative competence is reserved for less important matters such as abattoirs and liquor licenses.
The provinces have a role in drafting national legislation through their participation in the National Council of Provinces, the second house of Parliament.
The Cape legal system was, in turn, followed by the British colony in Natal, and also, in many respects, by the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (the Transvaal) and the Oranjevrijstaat (the Orange Free State) – the Boer Republics established by Dutch trekkers in the mid-nineteenth century.
After the South African Anglo-Boer War (1899 –1902), Britain took control of all parts of South Africa, and in 1910, a Union of South Africa was established with four provinces: the Cape, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal.
Key legislation creating this policy included the Population Registration Act 30 of 1950 (classifying the South African population into ‘racial groups’); the Group Areas Act 41 of 1950 (providing for the segregation of residential and other areas) and a plethora of other acts designed to segregate every aspect of life, including public administration, education, health services, employment, transport and public amenities.However, English procedural law was adopted and this had a tendency to influence substantive provisions.Furthermore, Roman-Dutch Law did not always cater for the requirements of the modern society that developed during the 19 century, necessitating legislative innovation, which was often based on English acts and interpreted using relevant English precedent.‘Grand apartheid’ divided the territory of South Africa into separate ‘states’, some of which (the Transkei, Boputhatswana, Venda and the Ciskei) were given ‘independence’ by the South African government.In terms of South African law, the ‘citizens’ of such states lost their South African citizenship.