State President of South Africa
|State President of South Africa
Staatspresident van Suid-Afrika
Coat of Arms of South Africa
|Style||The Honourable (until 1985)|
|Appointer||Parliament of South Africa|
|Term length||7 years (until 1984)
Duration of Parliament
(normally 5 years) (1984–94)
|Formation||31 May 1961 (ceremonial)
15 August 1984 (executive)
|First holder||Charles Robberts Swart|
|Final holder||Frederik Willem de Klerk|
|Abolished||10 May 1994|
|Succession||President of South Africa|
|Deputy||Vice State President of South Africa (1981–1984)|
State President (Afrikaans: Staatspresident) was the title of South Africa's head of state 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 the Union of South Africa was accordingly abolished.
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, 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. As such, the State President performed mostly ceremonial duties, and was required 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 65.
Following constitutional reforms, in 1984, the office of State President became an executive post, as in the United States. The office of Prime Minister of South Africa 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. The members were elected by the respective racial groups of the Tricameral Parliament—the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and 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 State President.
The State President was vested with sweeping executive powers—in most respects, even greater than those of 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.
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. Although the reforms were billed as a power-sharing arrangement, in practice 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, for some time, the State President had been referred to as simply the "president" in non-South African sources. 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)
|Picture||Took office||Left office||Elected
|State presidents as head of state (Ceremonial, 1961–1984)|
|1||Charles Robberts Swart
|31 May 1961||31 May 1967||—||National Party|
|—||Theophilus Ebenhaezer Dönges
|Elected but did not take office because of illness||—||National Party|
|—||Jozua François Naudé
|1 June 1967||10 April 1968||—||National Party|
|2||Jacobus Johannes Fouché
|10 April 1968||9 April 1975||—||National Party|
|—||Johannes de Klerk
|9 April 1975||19 April 1975||—||National Party|
|3||Nicolaas Johannes Diederichs
|19 April 1975||21 August 1978
(Died in office)
|21 August 1978||10 October 1978||—||National Party|
|4||Balthazar Johannes Vorster
|10 October 1978||4 June 1979
|19 June 1979
4 June 1979
|3 September 1984||—||National Party|
|State presidents as head of state and government (Executive, 1984–1994)|
|1||Pieter Willem Botha
|14 September 1984
3 September 1984
|15 August 1989
|1987 (20th)||National Party|
|2||Frederik Willem de Klerk
|20 September 1989
15 August 1989
|10 May 1994||1989 (21st)||National Party|
Living former heads of state
There is one living former South African State President:
F. W. de Klerk
March 18, 1936
- Governor-General of the Union of South Africa
- President of South Africa
- Prime Minister of South Africa
- Vice State President of South Africa
- Blazes Along a Diplomatic Trail: A Memoir of Four Posts in the Canadian Foreign Service, J. C. Gordon Brown, Trafford Publishing, 2000, page 58
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