Like other non-White people in South Africa prior to 1994, the Coloured population has never enjoyed equal political rights with those regarded as White. With the advent of the Union of South Africa in 1909, for example, the franchise was given to Coloured males in the Cape Province only, subject to specified property and income qualifications. In 1951 those rights were removed, and voters were placed on a separate Coloured roll. In 1984 the government introduced a tricameral parliamentary system that made provision for the election of representatives to be responsible for the administration of so-called Coloured affairs. In the pre-1951 system, White political parties hoped to lure Coloured voters, and in certain urban areas the more liberal parties considered the Coloured vote crucial to their success. One of the reasons for removing the Coloureds from the voter roll was to reduce their political power as the number of qualified voters increased.
Coloured involvement in political protest in White-dominated South Africa changed radically after 1951, and, by the mid-1970s, many Coloureds began to identify themselves with national struggles against apartheid, reflecting their disillusionment with White liberalism.
Various segments of those people who came to be known as the Basters formed, with the assistance of missionaries, largely autonomous political communities and cultivated their marginal ethnic identity. These included the Grigua, the various Baster groups of Little Namaqualand, and the Rehoboth Basters, who established a republic in what is now Namibia in 1870. All these Baster nations developed formal written constitutions after they had lived for a period under customary law during their seminomadic pastoral stage, as did the White Voortrekkers. The constitutions of the Basters resembled very closely those of their White counterparts (cf. the thirty-three articles of the constitution of the South African Republic of 1844 with the sixty-four articles of that of the Rehoboth Baster nation of 1874).
The Coloured reserves of Little Namaqualand have similar histories to that of the Rehoboth nation of Namibia, although the former never enjoyed full political autonomy.