Governor-General of South Africa

The Governor-General of the Union of South Africa 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 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 (1910–1961)

PortraitTook officeLeft officeMonarchPrime Minister
1The Viscount Gladstone
31 May 19108 September 1914George VBotha
2The Viscount Buxton
8 September 191417 November 1920George VBotha
3Prince Arthur of Connaught
17 November 192021 January 1924George VSmuts
4The Earl of Athlone
21 January 192426 January 1931George VSmuts
5The Earl of Clarendon
26 January 19315 April 1937George VHertzog
6Sir Patrick Duncan
5 April 193717 July 1943George VIHertzog
Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet

Officer Administering the Government
17 July 19431 January 1946George VISmuts
7Gideon Brand van Zyl
1 January 19461 January 1951George VISmuts
8Ernest George Jansen
1 January 195125 November 1959George VIMalan
Lucas Cornelius Steyn

Officer Administering the Government
26 November 195911 December 1959Elizabeth IIVerwoerd
9Charles Robberts Swart
11 December 195930 April 1961Elizabeth IIVerwoerd
Lucas Cornelius Steyn

Officer Administering the Government
30 April 196131 May 1961Elizabeth IIVerwoerd

Flag of the Governor-General