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Governor-General of the Union of South Africa
Goewerneur-generaal van die Unie van Suid-Afrika (Afrikaans)
Goeverneur-generaal van de Unie van Zuid-Afrika (Dutch)
Viceregal
StyleHis Excellency
StatusAbolished
ResidenceGovernment House
AppointerMonarch of South Africa
Constituting instrumentSouth Africa Act 1909
Formation31 May 1910
First holderThe Viscount Gladstone
Final holderCharles Robberts Swart
Abolished31 May 1961

The governor-general of the Union of South Africa (Afrikaans: Goewerneur-generaal van Unie van Suid-Afrika; Dutch: Goeverneur-generaal van de Unie van Zuid-Afrika[a]) was the highest state official in the Union of South Africa between 31 May 1910 and 31 May 1961. The Union of South Africa was founded as a self-governing Dominion of the British Empire in 1910 and the office of governor-general was established as the representative of the monarch. Fifty-one years later the country declared itself a republic and the historic link with the British monarchy was broken. The office of governor-general was abolished.

Some of the first holders of the post were members of the British royal family including Prince Arthur of Connaught between 1920 and 1924, and the Earl of Athlone, who served between 1924 and 1931, before becoming the governor general of Canada. As in other Dominions, this would change, and from 1943 onward only South Africans (in fact, only Afrikaners) held the office.

The office was established by the South Africa Act 1909. Although the governor-general was nominally the country's chief executive, in practice he was bound by convention to act on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet of South Africa.

Republicanism

Die Tuynhuys, then-seat of the Governor-General in Cape Town

The Afrikaner-dominated National Party, which came to power in 1948, was avowedly republican and regarded South Africa's personal union with the United Kingdom and other realms within the Commonwealth of Nations as a relic of British imperialism. In the interim, the National Party used the governor-general's post as a sinecure for retired National Party ministers. The two governors-general appointed after 1948, Ernest George Jansen and Charles Robberts Swart, chose not to wear the traditional court uniform nor even to take an oath of allegiance to the monarch.

In 1957, God Save the Queen ceased to have equal status with Die Stem van Suid-Afrika as a national anthem, and the Union Flag similarly ceased to have equal status with the South African flag.

However, it was not until 1960 that Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd advised Governor-General Swart to hold a referendum on the issue. After several protests regarding the lowering of the voting age to 18, and the inclusion of white voters in South West Africa, on 5 October 1960 white South Africans were asked: Are you in favour of a Republic for the Union? The result was 52 per cent in favour of the change.

Swart, the last governor-general, asked Queen Elizabeth II to relieve him of his duties on 30 April 1961, after he signed the new republican constitution into law. Chief Justice Lucas Cornelius Steyn became Officer Administering the Government under a transitional arrangement until 31 May 1961, when the Republic of South Africa was declared and Swart became the first state president of South Africa.

List of governors-general of South Africa

The following is a list of people who served as governor-general of South Africa from independence in 1910 to the establishment of a republic in 1961.

Symbols

^† Died in office.
  Denotes Officer Administering the Government
No. Portrait Name
(Birth–Death)
Term of office Monarch
(Reign)
Took office Left office Time in office
1 The Viscount Gladstone
(1854–1930)
31 May
1910
8 September
1914
4 years, 100 days
George V
(1910–1936)
2 The Viscount Buxton
(1853–1934)
8 September
1914
17 November
1920
6 years, 70 days
3 Prince Arthur of Connaught
(1883–1938)
17 November
1920
21 January
1924
3 years, 65 days
4 The Earl of Athlone
(1874–1957)
21 January
1924
26 January
1931
7 years, 5 days
5 The Earl of Clarendon
(1877–1955)
26 January
1931
5 April
1937
6 years, 69 days
6 Sir Patrick Duncan
(1870–1943)
5 April
1937
17 July
1943[†]
6 years, 103 days
George VI
(1936–1952)
Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet
(1873–1960)
Officer Administering the Government
17 July
1943
1 January
1946
2 years, 168 days
7 Gideon Brand van Zyl
(1873–1956)
1 January
1946
1 January
1951
5 years
8 Ernest George Jansen
(1881–1959)
1 January
1951
25 November
1959[†]
8 years, 328 days
Lucas Cornelius Steyn
(1903–1976)
Officer Administering the Government
26 November
1959
11 December
1959
15 days
Elizabeth II
(1952–1961)
9 Charles Robberts Swart
(1894–1982)
11 December
1959
30 April
1961
1 year, 140 days
Lucas Cornelius Steyn
(1903–1976)
Officer Administering the Government
30 April
1961
31 May
1961
31 days

Flag of the governor-general

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Contemporary Dutch spelling used in South Africa from 1905 to 1925. Modern Dutch spelling: Gouverneur-generaal van de Unie van Zuid-Afrika