Presidents of South Africa

Nelson Mandela, the inspiration of a Nation

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
1918 – 2013

Madiba, the tall man, the great leader and noble spirit passed away at 20:50 on 5 December 2013. He will always be an international legend – remembered for his leadership, his kindness, friendliness and forgiveness. His lifestyle speaks louder than many words.

List of Presidents of South Africa, beginning from the date on which South Africa became a Republic in 1961, The list continues with the names of those who started in the present post-apartheid government lead by the majority African National Congress (ANC).  Prior to 1961 South Africa was a Union state of the Commonwealth of the United Kingdom, and was headed by Prime Ministers.

Next to the names of the presidents a basic overview is given of some of the interestimg characteristics of each of the presidents.

Ceremonial Presidents of South Africa (1961 – 1984):

Prior to the establishment of a Republic the ceremonial heads of government in die old Union of South Africa were Governors-General.

Charles Robberts (Blackie) Swart    31 May 1961 – 31 May 1967   After obtaining the degrees B.A. and LL.B he studied Journalism in the United States of America. Adv. Swart practiced law in Bloemfontein, became an MP and Leader of the Nationalist Party of the Free State Province. He served as Minister is several portfolios including that of Prime Minister

Theophilus Ebenhaezer (Eben) Dönges   (Elected, but never inaugurated due to ill-health) 31 May 1967 – 1 June 1967

Jozua Francois Naude (acting)   1 June 1967 – 10 April 1968

Jacobus Johannes (Jim) Fouché     10 April 1968 – 9 April 1975.   Fouche grew up in a small town in the Orange Free State Province. He became a successful farmer, and in 1950 became the Administrator of his province. In 1959 he was appointed Minister of Defence.

Johannes de Klerk    9 – 19 April 1975

Nicolaas Johannes (Nic) Diederichs    19 April 1975 – 21 August 1978 (Died in office) Dr. Diederichs obtained the degrees B.A. and M.A. (cum laude) and furthered his studies at the Universities of Munchen and Cologne and then went on to Leiden in Holland where he obtained the degree D.Lit. et Phil. (cum laude). He served as professor. He beamed internationally known as an acclaimed Minister of Finance, economist and statesman.

Marais Viljoen (acting)     21 August – 10 October 1978

Balthazar Johannes (John) Vorster    10 October 1978 – 4 June 1979 (Resigned)   He entered Stellenbosch University to study law. He also attended sociology classes under future Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd and retained a life-long connection with him in politics. He started a law practice in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape Province. When Vorster was Prime Minister of South Africa his popularity escalated from 22 to 62 percent in 4 years – this can be seen as a world record compared to other world leaders (Market Research Africa)

Marais Viljoen    4 – 19 June 1979 (Acting)

Marais Viljoen   20 June 1979 – 2 September 1984   was the last ceremonial State President of the Republic of South Africa. He studied at the University of Cape Town and started a career by going to work in the Post Office, and later at the Afrikaans language provincial newspaper, “Die Transvaler”.In 1958 he became deputy minister of labour and mines, and later served, either as deputy minister or as minister, in the departments of Coloured affairs, immigration, education, the interior, and posts and telecommunications.

Executive Presidents of South Africa:

Pieter Willem (PW) Botha 3 September 1984 – 15 August 1989 (Resigned) Botha studied law at the University of Orange Free State in Bloemfontein from 1932 to 1935 but left without graduating. He became defence minister in 1966, a position he held for the next fourteen years. He was the leader of the Republic of South Africa from 1978 to 1989 being the last serving Prime Minister from 1978 to 1984 and the first executive State President from 1984 to 1989.

Chris Heunis  19 January – 15 March 1989

Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk 15 August 1989 – 9 May 1994 De Klerk graduated from Potchefstroom University in in 1958 with BA and Ll.B degrees (the latter cum laude). Simultaneously he was awarded the Abe Bailey scholarship (an all-expenses paid educational tour to the United Kingdom).   From 1961-1972 de Klerk practiced as an attorney in Vereeniging (presently in the Gauteng province). He was elected President of South Africa in 1989 and the following year he opened negotiations with previously outlawed anti-apartheid organizations. Following the 1994 elections De Klerk was appointed the Second Vice President in President Mandela’s cabinet. He Klerk and Mandela were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in reforming South Africa.

Post-Apartheid Presidents of South Africa:

The names of the Presidents with executive powers who were elected in the new democracy in South Africa after 1994.  This was accomplished after the abolishment of apartheid in 1992 by the then ruling National Party and the unbanning of “Black” political movements such as the ANC, PAC, SACP and others.  Since the 1994, the ruling African National Congress has ruled with roughly a 2/3 majority vote.


Nelson Mandela, the inspiration of a Nation

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 10 May 1994 – 16 June 1999   He (Madiba) studied at the University College of Fort Hare for a B.A. degree where he was elected onto the Students’ Representative Council. He however did not complete the degree as he was expelled for joining in a student protest and later completed his B.A. through the University of South Africa (Unisa) A two-year diploma in law on top of his B.A. enabled him to practice law. On 11 June 1964 Mandela and seven other accused were convicted and the next day was sentenced to life imprisonment. In August 1994 Madiba has been called a freedom fighter, a great man, South Africa’s Favourite Son, a global icon and a living legend, among countless other names. He has been an activist, a political prisoner, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, an international peacemaker and statesman, was awarded Nobel Peace Prize as well.

President Thabo MbekiThabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki  16 June 1999 – 24 September 2008 (Recalled from office)     The anti-apartheid supporter rose within the political ranks of the African National Congress. In 1969 he moved to Moscow to study at the Institute of Social Science.   In 1990 he persuaded the ANC to stop the armed struggle against the apartheid regime, believing that dialogue, rather than guns, held the key to freedom. He served two terms as the second president of South Africa after Nelson Mandela.

President Kgalema MotlantePetrus Kgalema Mothlanthe  25 September 2008 – 9 May 2009

Motlanthe is a former trade unionist and member of the African National Congress’ military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe   He was elected the Secretary General of the ANC at its Mafikeng Conference in December 1997   Motlanthe was elected Deputy President of the African National Congress at the party’s 52nd National Conference in December 2007, defeating the Mbeki camp’s choice of Dr. Skosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

President Jacob ZumaJacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma   9 May 2008 –       His father was a policeman who died when Zuma was still young, and his mother served as a domestic worker. He received no formal schooling. At an early age he joined the ANC in 1959   He is a controversial politician, involving himself in several legal scandals associated with corruption and racketeering. Zuma is the President of the African National Congress, the governing political party, and was the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa from 1999 to 2005. He became known for his misuse of government resources. As a polygamist, Zuma has 20 children.