State President of South Africa

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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 federal 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.

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
StyleThe Honourable (until 1985)
AppointerParliament of South Africa
Term lengthSeven years, nonrenewable (until 1984)
Duration of Parliament
(normally five years) (1984–94)
Formation31 May 1961 (ceremonial)
15 August 1984 (executive)
First holderCharles Robberts Swart
Final holderFrederik Willem de Klerk
Abolished10 May 1994
SuccessionPresident of South Africa
DeputyVice State President of South Africa (1981–1984)
The Standard of the South African State President from 1961 to 1984.

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.

Ceremonial postEdit

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 majority—52 percent— of the minority white electorate voted in favour of abolishing the monarchy and declaring South Africa a republic.

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.

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.

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.

Executive postEdit

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 ruleEdit

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 African Federation (1961–1994)Edit


  National Party

No. Portrait Name
Term of office Political party
Elected Took office Left office Time in office
State presidents as head of state (Ceremonial, 1961–1984)
1   Charles Robberts Swart
1961 31 May 1961 31 May 1967 6 years, 0 days National Party
  Theophilus Ebenhaezer Dönges
1967 Elected but did not take office because of illness National Party
  Jozua François Naudé
Acting President
1 June 1967 10 April 1968 314 days National Party
2   Jacobus Johannes Fouché
1968 10 April 1968 9 April 1975 6 years, 364 days National Party
  Johannes de Klerk
Acting President
9 April 1975 19 April 1975 10 days National Party
3   Nicolaas Johannes Diederichs
1975 19 April 1975 21 August 1978
(Died in office)
3 years, 124 days National Party
  Marais Viljoen
Acting President
21 August 1978 10 October 1978 50 days National Party
4   Balthazar Johannes Vorster
1978 10 October 1978 4 June 1979
237 days National Party
5   Marais Viljoen
1979 19 June 1979
Acting since
4 June 1979
3 September 1984 5 years, 91 days National Party
State presidents as head of state and government (Executive, 1984–1994)
1   Pieter Willem Botha
1984 14 September 1984
Acting since
3 September 1984
15 August 1989
4 years, 346 days National Party
2   Frederik Willem de Klerk
1989 20 September 1989
Acting since
15 August 1989
10 May 1994 4 years, 268 days National Party

Living former heads of stateEdit

There is one living former South African State President:

See also thisEdit


  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

External linksEdit