State President of the Republic of South Africa
Staatspresident van Republiek van Suid-Afrika
Standard of the State President (1984–1994)
Longest serving
Jim Fouché

10 April 1968 – 9 April 1975
StyleThe Honourable (until 1985)
AbbreviationSP – the same abbreviation in both English (State President) and Afrikaans (Staatspresident)
ResidenceTuynhuys, Cape Town
AppointerParliament of South Africa as an electoral collegeHouse of Assembly of South Africa and the Senate of South Africa meeting jointly for this purpose.
Term lengthSeven years, nonrenewable (until 1984)
Duration of Parliament
(normally five years) (1984–94)
PrecursorMonarch of South Africa
Formation31 May 1961 (ceremonial)
3 September 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 ceremonial and non-executive State President of the Republic of South Africa from 1961 to 1984.

The State President of the Republic of South Africa (Afrikaans: Staatspresident van Republiek van Suid-Afrika) was the head of state of South Africa from 1961 to 1994. The office was established when the country became a republic on 31 May 1961, outside the Commonwealth of Nations, and Queen Elizabeth II ceased to be Queen 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.

The State President was appointed by both Houses of the Parliament of South Africa (Senate of South Africa and the House of Assembly of South Africa) meeting jointly in the form of an electoral college for this purpose.

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.

Prior to 1981, the President of the Senate of South Africa had a dormant commission to act as State President whenever the State Presidency was vacant. This was often the case from 1967 to 1979.

Ceremonial post

De Tuynhuys, used as the Cape Town office of the State President, now the office of the President of South Africa

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 single 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 those in the English-speaking community 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.

The powers of the State President from 1961 to 1984 was essentially the same as that of the Governor-General of South Africa.

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. He succeeded the last ceremonial and non-executive State President, Marais Viljoen.

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) has been 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 of South Africa on 10 May 1994.

List of state presidents of South Africa

Political parties

  National Party


  and "acting" denotes acting president

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
31 May 1961 31 May 1967 6 years National Party 1961
Theophilus Ebenhaezer Dönges
Elected, but did not take office because of illness National Party 1967
Jozua François Naudé
1 June 1967 10 April 1968 314 days National Party
2 Jacobus Johannes Fouché
10 April 1968 9 April 1975 6 years, 364 days National Party 1968
Johannes de Klerk
9 April 1975 19 April 1975 10 days National Party
3 Nicolaas Johannes Diederichs
19 April 1975 21 August 1978
(died in office)
3 years, 124 days National Party 1975
Marais Viljoen
21 August 1978 10 October 1978 50 days National Party
4 Balthazar Johannes Vorster
10 October 1978 4 June 1979
237 days National Party 1978
Marais Viljoen
4 June 1979 19 June 1979 15 days National Party
5 19 June 1979 3 September 1984 5 years, 91 days 1979
State presidents as head of state and government (Executive, 1984–1994)
Pieter Willem Botha
3 September 1984 14 September 1984 11 days National Party
1 14 September 1984 14 August 1989
4 years, 334 days 1984
Jan Christiaan Heunis
19 January 1989 15 March 1989 55 days National Party
Frederik Willem de Klerk
14 August 1989 20 September 1989 37 days National Party
2 20 September 1989 10 May 1994 4 years, 232 days 1989


F. W. de KlerkChris HeunisP. W. BothaJohn VorsterMarais ViljoenNico DiederichsJan de KlerkJim FouchéTom NaudéC. R. Swart

See also


  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, 9 June 1961
  4. ^ John Vorster, former South African Prime Minister, Dies At 67, The New York Times, 11 September 1983