President of South Africa

The President of the Republic of South Africa is the head of state, head of government and the commander-in-chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) under the Constitution of South Africa. From 1961 to 1994, the head of state was called the State President.

President of the
Republic of South Africa
Seal of the President of South Africa
Cyril Ramaphosa

since 15 February 2018
StyleHis Excellency
ResidenceMahlamba Ndlopfu (Pretoria)
Genadendal (Cape Town)
Dr. John L. Dube House (Durban)
AppointerNational Assembly of South Africa
Term length5 years
renewable once
Inaugural holderNelson Mandela
Formation10 May 1994
DeputyDeputy President of South Africa
SalaryR 2,900,000 ($ 251,127)[1]
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The President is elected by the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, and is usually the leader of the largest party, which has been the African National Congress since the first non-racial elections were held on 27 April 1994. The Constitution limits the president's time in office to two five-year terms.[2] The first president to be elected under the new constitution was Nelson Mandela. The incumbent is Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected by the National Assembly on 15 February 2018 following the resignation of Jacob Zuma.

Under the interim constitution (valid from 1994 to 1996), there was a Government of National Unity, in which a Member of Parliament (MP) from the largest opposition party was entitled to a position as Deputy President. Along with Thabo Mbeki, the last State President, F. W. de Klerk also served as Deputy President, in his capacity as the leader of the National Party which was the second-largest party in the new Parliament. But De Klerk later resigned and went into opposition with his party. A voluntary coalition government continues to exist under the new constitution (adopted in 1996), although there have been no appointments of opposition politicians to the post of Deputy President.

The President is required to be a member of the National Assembly at the time of his election. Upon his election, he immediately resigns his seat for the duration of his term. The President may be removed either by a motion of no-confidence or an impeachment trial.


The office of the President, and the roles that come with it, were established by Chapter Five of the Constitution of South Africa which was formed by a Constituent Assembly upon the dissolution of apartheid as state policy.[2]

A number of manifestations of the office have existed. Aspects of these offices exist within the presidency today. The executive leadership of the British colonies of Natal and of the Cape of Good Hope were invested in their Governors, likewise was invested in the Presidents of the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Alternating sovereignty as a result of wars culminated in the Vereeniging Treaty signed in which concluded the South African War.

The Union of South Africa, a British Dominion, was established on 31 May 1910[3] with the British monarch as titular head of state, represented by a viceroy, the Governor-General.

Upon the declaration of the Republic of South Africa on 31 May 1961, the office of State President was created.[4] It was originally a ceremonial post, but became an executive post in 1984 when a new constitution abolished the post of Prime Minister and transferred its powers to the State President.

Electoral system

South Africa has a distinctive system for the election of its president. Unlike other former British colonies and dominions who have adopted a parliamentary republican form of government and those that follow the Westminster system, South Africa's President is both head of state and head of government and Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Contrary to presidential systems around the world, the President of South Africa is elected by the Parliament of South Africa[5] rather than by the people directly. He is thus answerable to it in theory and able to influence legislation in practice as head of the majority party.

The President is elected at the first sitting of Parliament after an election, and whenever a vacancy arises. The President is elected by the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, from among its members. The chief justice must oversee the election. Once elected, a person is no longer a member of the National Assembly. They must then be sworn in as President within five days of the election. Should a vacancy arise, the date of a new election must be set by the chief justice, but not more than 30 days after the vacancy occurs.[6]

The Constitution has thus prescribed a system combining both parliamentary and presidential systems in a unique manner. Only Botswana and a few other countries use a similar system. Between 1996 and 2003 Israel combined the two systems in an opposite way, with an elected prime minister.[7]

Although the presidency is the key institution, it is hedged about with numerous checks and balances that prevent its total dominance over the government, as was the case in many African countries. The presidential term is five years, with a limit of two terms. Thus the electoral system attempts (at least on paper) to prevent the accumulation of power in the president as was during Apartheid or in many other African countries.[8]


According to chapter five of the constitution, the President can only exercise the powers of his or her office while within the Republic of South Africa. Should the president be outside of the country, or unable to fulfil the duties of the office, they may appoint an acting president.

The presidential vacancy should be filled first by the Deputy President, then cabinet minister selected by the President, then a cabinet minister selected by the cabinet, and finally by the Speaker of the National Assembly.[9]

Presidential powers

The President is the head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the South African National Defence Force. The rights, responsibilities and remuneration of the President are enumerated in Chapter V of the Constitution of South Africa and subsequent amendments and laws passed by the Parliament of South Africa.

The executive powers of the Republic are vested in the President. He appoints various officials to positions listed in the Constitution however the most significant are the ministers and justices of the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court. Through the Cabinet, the President implements and enforces the constitution and laws and enforces his or her political objectives. Judges are appointed on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.

The President plays a role in the formation of legislation. He or she signs bills into laws and can do the opposite, veto them (although subject to an override), refers bills back to Parliament or to the Constitutional Court or can call for a referendum. The president summons parliament, often delivering his or her objectives and agenda in a State of the Nation Address at the beginning of each session.

The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force thereby possessing influence or control over foreign and security policy. He or she is accorded the constitutional powers to declare war and make peace, negotiate and sign (although not ratify) treaties (and the alliances that may come with them), and receives and appoints diplomatic officials, confers honours and grants pardons.[10]

Presidents of South Africa (1994–present)


  African National Congress

No. Portrait Name
Term of office

Electoral mandates
Duration Parliament Political party Government Refs
1 Nelson Mandela
10 May
14 June
5 years, 35 days 22nd
(Reshuffle 1 · 2 · 3)
The first post-apartheid President of South Africa. The first black chief executive of South Africa, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997.
2 Thabo Mbeki
(born 1942)
14 June
21 May
9 years, 102 days 23rd
Mbeki I
21 May
24 September
Mbeki II
(Reshuffle 1 · 2)
1999, 2004
The second post-apartheid President of South Africa. On 20 September 2008, with about nine months left in his second term, Mbeki announced his resignation after being recalled by the National Executive Committee of the ANC, following a conclusion by judge C. R. Nicholson of improper interference in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), including the prosecution of Jacob Zuma for corruption. On 12 January 2009, the Supreme Court of Appeal unanimously overturned judge Nicholson's judgment but the resignation stood.
3 Kgalema Motlanthe
(born 1949)
25 September
9 May
228 days 24th
The third post-apartheid President of South Africa. He was elected following the resignation of Thabo Mbeki and briefly served before being succeeded by Jacob Zuma, who later appointed Motlanthe deputy president.
4 Jacob Zuma
(born 1942)
9 May
21 May
8 years, 281 days 25th
Zuma I
(Reshuffle 1 · 2 · 3)
21 May
14 February
Zuma II
(Reshuffle 1 · 2 · 3)
2009, 2014
The fourth post-apartheid President of South Africa. Presided over the centennial celebration of the ANC in 2015 as well as the death of Nelson Mandela in 2013. With less than a year before his term were to expire, Zuma resigned on 14 February 2018 following the demands of the ANC that Zuma should resign, or risk facing a successful vote of no confidence in the National Assembly.
5 Cyril Ramaphosa
(born 1952)
15 February
1 year, 305 days 26th
2018, 2019
The fifth post-apartheid President of South Africa. He was elected following the resignation of Jacob Zuma.


Living former presidents

Latest election

See also


  1. "This is how much Ramaphosa could earn as president in 2018 and beyond". 22 February 2018. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  2. "Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 - Chapter 5: The President and National Executive, 88. Term of office of President".
  3. "General History of South Africa Timeline: 1910s".
  4. "General History of South Africa Timeline: 1960s".
  5. "Voting Completed to Elect New President". Archived from the original on 3 December 2013.
  6. "Chapter 5 - The President and National Executive". The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  7. "Botswana".
  8. "Elections in South Africa".
  9. "Succession planning for dummies". Daily Maverick. 14 December 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  10. "Responsibilities of the President of South Africa".
  11. The Presidency (14 October 2004). "GCIS: profile information: Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki, Mr". GCIS. Archived from the original on 16 April 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  12. "Cabinet bids farewell to Mbeki". SABC news. 25 September 2008. Archived from the original on 29 September 2008. Retrieved 25 September 2008. His resignation came into effect at midnight.
  13. "SA's Mbeki says he will step down". London: BBC News. 20 September 2008. Retrieved 21 September 2008.
  14. "Full Zuma Judgment". News24. 13 September 2008. Archived from the original on 31 October 2008.
  15. "Judge Nicholson Red-carded by SCA". Mail&Guardian Online. 12 January 2009.
  16. "National Director of Public Prosecutions v Zuma (573/08) [2009] ZASCA 1 (12 Jan 2009)" (PDF). South African Supreme Court of Appeal. 12 January 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2009.
  17. "Mbeki lashes out at lying politicians". IOL/The Star. 14 January 2009.
  18. "Zuma sworn in as SA's fourth democratic President". SABC. 9 May 2009. Archived from the original on 29 May 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2009.
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