State President of South Africa

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State President of South Africa
Staatspresident van Suid-Afrika
Flag of the President of South Africa (1984-1994).svg
Standard of the State President (1984–1994)
Frederik Willem de Klerk.jpg
Frederik Willem de Klerk
Style The Honourable (until 1985)
Appointer Parliament of South Africa
Term length 7 years (until 1984)
Duration of Parliament
(normally 5 years) (1984–94)
Formation31 May 1961 (ceremonial)
15 August 1984 (executive)
First holder Charles Robberts Swart
Final holder Frederik Willem de Klerk
Abolished10 May 1994
Succession President of South Africa
Deputy Vice State President of South Africa (1981–1984)
The Standard of the South African State President from 1961 to 1984. Flag of the President of South Africa (1961-1984).svg
The Standard of the South African State President from 1961 to 1984.

The State President of the Republic of South Africa (Afrikaans : Staatspresident) was the head of state of South Africa from 1961 to 1994. The office was established when the country became a republic in 1961, and Queen Elizabeth II ceased to be monarch of South Africa. The position of Governor-General of South Africa was accordingly abolished. From 1961 to 1984, the post was largely ceremonial. After constitutional reforms enacted in 1983 and taking effect in 1984, the State President became an executive post, and its holder was both head of state and head of government.

South Africa Republic in the southernmost part of Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini (Swaziland); and it surrounds the enclaved country of Lesotho. South Africa is the largest country in Southern Africa and the 25th-largest country in the world by land area and, with over 57 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (White), Asian (Indian), and multiracial (Coloured) ancestry.

Elizabeth II Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms

Elizabeth II is Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.

Monarchy of South Africa

From 1910 to 1961 the Union of South Africa was a self-governing country that shared a monarch with the United Kingdom, and other Dominions of the British Empire. The monarch's constitutional roles were mostly delegated to the Governor-General of the Union of South Africa.


The office was abolished in 1994, with the end of Apartheid and the transition to democratic majority rule. Since then, the head of state and head of government is known simply as the President of South Africa.

Apartheid system of racial segregation enforced through legislation in South Africa

Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on baasskap, which encouraged state repression of Black African, Coloured, and Asian South Africans for the benefit of the nation's minority white population. The economic legacy and social effects of apartheid continue to the present day.

President of South Africa South Africas head of state and head of government

The President of the Republic of South Africa is the head of state and head of government under the Constitution of South Africa. From 1961 to 1994, the head of state was called the State President.

Ceremonial post

Republicanism had long been a plank in the platform of the ruling National Party. However, it was not until 1960, 12 years after it took power, that it was able to hold a referendum on the issue. A narrow majority52 percent of the minority white electorate voted in favour of abolishing the monarchy and declaring South Africa a republic.

National Party (South Africa) political party of South Africa

The National Party, also known as the Nationalist Party, was a political party in South Africa founded in 1914 and disbanded in 1997. The party was originally an Afrikaner ethnic nationalist party that promoted Afrikaner interests in South Africa. However in the early 1990s it became a South African civic nationalist party seeking to represent all South Africans. It first became the governing party of the country in 1924. It was in opposition during World War II but it returned to power and was again in the government from 4 June 1948 until 9 May 1994.

The Republic of South Africa was proclaimed on 31 May 1961. Charles Robberts Swart, the last Governor-General, was sworn in as the first State President. The title 'State President' was originally used for the head of state of the Boer Republics, [1] and like them, the holder of the office wore a sash with the Republic's coat of arms. He was elected to a seven-year term by the Parliament of South Africa, and was not eligible for re-election.

Boer Republics Former countries in southern Africa

The Boer Republics were independent, self-governed republics in the last half of the nineteenth century, created by the Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the Cape Colony and their descendants, variously named Trekboers, Boers and Voortrekkers in mainly the middle, northern and north eastern and eastern parts of what is now the country of South Africa. Two of the Boer Republics achieved international recognition and complete independence: the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The republics did not provide separation of church and state, and initially only the Dutch Reformed Church, then also other churches in the Calvinist Protestant tradition, were allowed. The republics came to an end after the Second Boer War which resulted in the British annexation and later incorporation into the Union of South Africa.

A presidential sash is a cloth sash worn by presidents of many nations in the world. Such sashes are worn by presidents in Africa, Asia, Europe and, most notably, in Latin America.

Coat of arms unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon

A coat of arms is a heraldic visual design on an escutcheon, surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement which in its whole consists of shield, supporters, crest, and motto. A coat of arms is traditionally unique to an individual person, family, state, organization or corporation.

The National Party decided against having an executive presidency, instead adopting a minimalist approach as a conciliatory gesture to English-speaking whites who were opposed to a republic. [2] As such, the State President performed mostly ceremonial duties, and was bound by convention to act on the advice of the Prime Minister and the cabinet.

Prime Minister of South Africa position

The Prime Minister of South Africa was the head of government in South Africa between 1910 and 1984.

In practice, the post of State President was a sinecure for retired National Party ministers, as the Governor-General's post had been since 1948. Consequently, all State Presidents from 1961 to 1984 were white, Afrikaner, male, and over 60.

A sinecure is an office – carrying a salary or otherwise generating income – that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service. The term originated in the medieval church, where it signified a post without any responsibility for the "cure [care] of souls", the regular liturgical and pastoral functions of a cleric, but came to be applied to any post, secular or ecclesiastical, that involved little or no actual work. Sinecures have historically provided a potent tool for governments or monarchs to distribute patronage, while recipients are able to store up titles and easy salaries.

Executive post

Following constitutional reforms, in 1984, the office of State President became an executive post, as in the United States. The Prime Minister's post was abolished, and its powers were de facto merged with those of the State President. He was elected by an electoral college of 88 members—50 Whites, 25 Coloureds, and 13 Indians–from among the members of the Tricameral Parliament. The members of the electoral college were elected by the respective racial groups of the Tricameral Parliament—the white House of Assembly, Coloured House of Representatives and Indian House of Delegates. He held office for the Parliament's duration—in practice, five years. The last Prime Minister, P. W. Botha, was elected as the first executive State President.

The State President was vested with sweeping executive powers—in most respects, even greater than those of comparative offices like the President of the United States. He had sole jurisdiction over matters of "national" concern, such as foreign policy and race relations. He was chairman of the President's Council, which resolved disputes between the three chambers regarding "general affairs" legislation. This body consisted of 60 members – 20 members appointed by the House of Assembly, 10 by the House of Representatives, five by the House of Delegates and 25 directly by the State President.

Although the reforms were billed as a power-sharing arrangement, the composition of the electoral college and President's Council made it all but impossible for the white chamber to be outvoted on any substantive matter. Thus, the real power remained in white hands—and in practice, in the hands of the National Party, which had a large majority in the white chamber. As Botha was leader of the National Party, the system placed nearly all governing power in his hands.

Botha resigned in 1989 and was succeeded by F. W. de Klerk, who oversaw the transition to majority rule in 1994.

End of white minority rule

Under South Africa's first non-racial constitution, adopted in 1994, the head of state (and of government) is known simply as the President. However, since the declaration of the republic in 1961, most non-South African sources had referred to the State President as simply the "President". [3] [4] The leader of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, was sworn in as President on 10 May 1994.

List of State Presidents of South Africa (1961–1994)


   National Party

PictureTook officeLeft officeElected
Political Party
State presidents as head of state (Ceremonial, 1961–1984)
1 Charles Robberts Swart
CR Swart 1960.jpg 31 May 196131 May 1967 National Party
Theophilus Ebenhaezer Dönges
Donges cropped.jpg Elected but did not take office because of illness National Party
Tom Naudé
Acting President
Tom Naude 1962.jpg 1 June 196710 April 1968 National Party
2 Jacobus Johannes Fouché
JJ Fouche.jpg 10 April 19689 April 1975 National Party
Johannes de Klerk
Acting President
Jan de Klerk.jpg 9 April 197519 April 1975 National Party
3 Nicolaas Johannes Diederichs
Nicolaas Diederichs.jpg 19 April 197521 August 1978
(Died in office)
National Party
Marais Viljoen
Acting President
Marais Viljoen.jpg 21 August 197810 October 1978 National Party
4 Balthazar Johannes Vorster
John Vorster.jpg 10 October 19784 June 1979
National Party
5 Marais Viljoen
Marais Viljoen.jpg 19 June 1979
Acting since
4 June 1979
3 September 1984 National Party
State presidents as head of state and government (Executive, 1984–1994)
1 Pieter Willem Botha
PW Botha 1962.jpg 14 September 1984
Acting since
3 September 1984
15 August 1989
1987 (20th) National Party
2 Frederik Willem de Klerk
Frederik Willem de Klerk.jpg 20 September 1989
Acting since
15 August 1989
10 May 1994 1989 (21st) National Party

Living former heads of state

There is one living former South African State President:

See also

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  1. Sketch of the Orange Free State of South Africa, Orange Free State. Commission at the International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876, pages 10-12
  2. The White Tribe of Africa, David Harrison, University of California Press, 1983, page 161
  3. South Africa: A War Won, TIME , June 9, 1961
  4. John Vorster, former South African Prime Minister, Dies At 67, New York Times , 11 September 1983