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Governor-General of the Union of South Africa

Governor-General of the Union of South Africa
Arms of South Africa
Style His Excellency
Appointer King/Queen of South Africa
Formation 31 May 1910
First holder The Viscount Gladstone
Final holder The Rt Hon. Charles Robberts Swart
Abolished 31 May 1961

The Governor-General of the Union of South Africa (Afrikaans: Goewerneur-generaal van Unie van Suid-Afrika) was the representative of the British (1910–1931) and later South African Crown (1931–1961) in the Union of South Africa between 31 May 1910 and 31 May 1961. The Union of South Africa was a Commonwealth realm in which Queen Elizabeth II was given the title Queen of South Africa, although she never visited the country in that capacity.

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.


The Afrikaner-dominated National Party, which came to power in 1948, was avowedly republican and regarded South Africa's personal union with the other Commonwealth realms 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 Windsor uniform nor even to take an oath of allegiance to the monarch.

In 1957, God Save the Queen ceased to have equal status with The Call of South Africa 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 become 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 the Union of South Africa (1910–1961)

# Name
Picture Took office Left office Monarch Prime Minister
1 The Viscount Gladstone
100px 31 May 1910 8 September 1914 George V Botha
2 The Viscount Buxton
100px 8 September 1914 17 November 1920
3 HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught
100px 17 November 1920 21 January 1924 Smuts
4 The Earl of Athlone
100px 21 January 1924 26 January 1931
5 The Earl of Clarendon
100px 26 January 1931 5 April 1937 Hertzog
6 Sir Patrick Duncan
100px 5 April 1937 17 July 1943 George VI
Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet
(Officer Administering the Government)
100px 17 July 1943 1 January 1946 Smuts
7 Gideon Brand van Zyl
100px 1 January 1946 1 January 1951
8 Ernest George Jansen
100px 1 January 1951 25 November 1959 Malan
Lucas Cornelius Steyn
(Officer Administering the Government)
100px 26 November 1959 11 December 1959 Elizabeth II Verwoerd
9 Charles Robberts Swart
100px 11 December 1959 30 April 1961
Lucas Cornelius Steyn
(Officer Administering the Government)
100px 30 April 1961 31 May 1961

Flag of the Governor-General

Flag used from 1931 to 1953
Flag used from 1931 to 1953
Flag used from 1953 to 1961
Flag used from 1953 to 1961

See also

External links