|First holder Charles Robberts Swart|
|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)
Final holder Frederik Willem de Klerk
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)
Living former heads of state
There is one living former South African State President: