Governor-General of South Africa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Governor-General of the Union of South Africa
Goewerneur-generaal van die Unie van Suid-Afrika
Goeverneur-generaal van de Unie van Zuid-Afrika[a]
Flag of the Governor-General of South Africa (1953-1961).svg
CR Swart 1960.jpg
Charles Robberts Swart
StyleHis Excellency
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
SuccessionState President of South Africa

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.


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 South Africa's whites 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 the Queen 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 become the first State President of South Africa.

List of governors-general of South Africa[edit]

No. Name
Portrait Took office Left office Monarch Prime Minister
1 The Viscount Gladstone
Herbert John Gladstone.jpg 31 May 1910 8 September 1914 George V Botha
2 The Viscount Buxton
Sydney Buxton, 1st Earl Buxton.jpg 8 September 1914 17 November 1920
3 Prince Arthur of Connaught
Prince Arthur of Connaught colour.jpg 17 November 1920 21 January 1924 Smuts
4 The Earl of Athlone
Earlofathlone.jpg 21 January 1924 26 January 1931
5 The Earl of Clarendon
George Herbert Hyde Villiers.jpg 26 January 1931 5 April 1937 Hertzog
6 Sir Patrick Duncan
Patrick Duncan.jpg 5 April 1937 17 July 1943 George VI
Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet
Officer Administering the Government
Nicolaas de Wet.jpg 17 July 1943 1 January 1946 Smuts
7 Gideon Brand van Zyl
Gideon Brand van Zyl.jpg 1 January 1946 1 January 1951
8 Ernest George Jansen
EG Jansen 1949.jpg 1 January 1951 25 November 1959 Malan
Lucas Cornelius Steyn
Officer Administering the Government
Coat of Arms of South Africa (1932-2000).svg 26 November 1959 11 December 1959 Elizabeth II Verwoerd
9 Charles Robberts Swart
CR Swart 1960.jpg 11 December 1959 30 April 1961
Lucas Cornelius Steyn
Officer Administering the Government
Coat of Arms of South Africa (1932-2000).svg 30 April 1961 31 May 1961

Flag of the Governor-General[edit]

See also[edit]


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