In South Africa, the cities of Bloemfontein, Cape Town, and Johannesburg are the seats of power for the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches of government.

In the United States and most other republican governments, the seats of power for all branches of government are located in the same capital. However, wouldn't separating the seats of power prevent corruption and consolidation of power, a concern of the founding fathers?


Why isn't there a capital for each branch of government in more Republican governments like in South Africa?

  • Isn't that mostly specific to South Africa?
    – JJJ
    Aug 3, 2019 at 3:55
  • @JJJ I guess really the question is based in the premise of: if the option of splitting the seats of power of each branch in their own city exists why (or why not) take that option? And then from there, why did South Africa take the three cities option, and why is that not the option the U.S. and other countries took?
    – isakbob
    Aug 3, 2019 at 3:58
  • 4
    The US originally placed the White House (executive) a mile away from the Capitol (legislature). And then cars were invented.
    – Kevin
    Aug 3, 2019 at 4:02
  • 3
    Perhaps because most of the countries formed their governments, and located their capitals, long before rapid communications and transport were invented?
    – jamesqf
    Aug 3, 2019 at 4:53
  • I don't see how keeping them in different cities would "prevent corruption and consolidation of power".
    – RWW
    Aug 7, 2019 at 16:44

2 Answers 2


In a time when one of the fastest forms of communication was by horse, it would take a week to send a letter from Washington to New York. It could take three weeks to send a letter from Savannah to New York.

So if the Supreme court was in Savannah, Congress was in the new Capitol of Washington, and the President was based in New York, then when the Government needed to act in a coordinated way, it could take forever to get something done:

Then, as now, the government was dependent on smooth and effective communication between the various branches. To facilitate effective communication it is essential to put the various branches of the federal government within walking distance of each other. I doubt that the idea of putting the branches of government in different cities was ever considered for a moment.

With modern communications things are different. Even so, the difficulty and inconvenience of having the EU Parliament, Commission and court in different cities has often been noted as a waste of money and time and an environmental loss. But moving the Parliament would be an up-front cost and inertia tends to dominate.

Times are based on a horse being able to travel about 50 miles in one day, as suggested by an answer on worldbuilding. In ideal conditions, with a pony relay, well trained horses and highly skilled riders, the journey could be done in less time. In bad weather or with unfit horses it could take longer. Timings are intended to be illustrative and not exact. Ships could be quicker, but not as quick as walking from the White House to the Senate.

  • 3
    "The President asks Congress to pass a new law, one week later Congress gets the request considers the matter and passes the law, it takes another week to send the message to the President to say that he has Congressional approval, and signs an executive order." Judging by how long things currently seem to be taking, that seems mighty fast. :D Aug 3, 2019 at 13:24
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    "Then the court hears about it three weeks later and decides it is unconstitutional" - The Supreme Court can't just rule on a law when they "hear about it", though. Someone has to file a lawsuit, and in almost all cases it needs to first be heard in a lower court (and what if that's a Georgia court?). And once it's filed, for the lawsuit to wait years before a ruling is, unfortunately, routine.
    – D M
    Aug 3, 2019 at 13:31
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    Your times are based on horses. But you perhaps forget the layout of the US at that time - it was pretty much all on the Atlantic coast. You could get pretty much anywhere on the coast in less than a week by using ships rather than horses.
    – D M
    Aug 3, 2019 at 13:37
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    From 1789 through 1865, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed parts of just two federal laws unconstitutional, in Marbury v. Madison and Dred Scott. Congress and the President were expected to take good faith efforts to only enact constitutional laws, instead. You might want to remove the sentence about the court deciding a law as unconstitutional from the answer, because it was not a normal part of the feedback loop when "the fastest form of communication was by horse" or sailing ship or riverboat.
    – Jasper
    Aug 3, 2019 at 14:34
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    @isakbob At the dates you mention, South Africa was a colony. The Republic of South Africa was formed in 1961, so 19th-century travel times between the various cities were irrelevant.
    – alephzero
    Aug 3, 2019 at 16:48

The Europe Union, which is another example of the same, illustrates quite well why it's more convenient to have the executive and legislative branches of government in one place.

The European Commission and the European Council, which are the executive branches, have their seats in Brussels. The European Parliament has its formal seat in Strasbourg. The European Court of Justice is in Luxembourg.

The European Parliament decided in 1985 to build another chamber in Brussels, in order to streamline how it works with the Commission by being closer to the latter. There was some protest when this occurred (chiefly by France). This resulted in a decision during the 1992 Council, which got enshrined in the Treaty of Amsterdam, whereby the EP must hold 12 sessions per year in Strasbourg. The rest of the time it basically sits in Brussels. This has a significant financial cost, too: MEPs end up having a travel budget so that they and their staff can hover as needed between the EP's two seats, and this is part of why it's one of the most expensive parliaments out there. (The other major reason is, of course, the need to work in a whopping 24 languages -- and that is likely there to stay.)

Insofar as I'm aware it's not as big a deal that the ECJ is in Luxembourg.

If I'm not mistaking, there's a similar dynamic in South Africa (though the other way around, with the Presidency having a subsidiary office in Tuynhuys, Cape Town), with arguments for and against there being multiple capitals nearly identical to those being used in Europe. Per the wiki article on its Parliament:

Parliament sits in Cape Town, even though the seat of government is in Pretoria. This dates back to the foundation of the Union, when there was disagreement among the four provinces as to which city would be the national capital. As a compromise, Cape Town was designated the legislative capital, Bloemfontein the judicial capital, and Pretoria the administrative capital. The African National Congress (ANC) government has proposed moving Parliament to Pretoria, arguing that the present arrangement is cumbersome as ministers, civil servants and diplomats must move back and forth when Parliament is in session.

However, many Capetonians have spoken out against such a move, accusing the ANC of trying to centralise power. Under the Constitution, there is provision for Parliament to sit elsewhere than Cape Town on grounds of public interest, security or convenience and Parliament is permitted to provide in its rules and orders for sittings outside Cape Town.

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