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Leader of the Opposition (South Africa)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leader of the Opposition of the Republic of South Africa
  • 10 other official names:
  • Leier van die Opposisie  (Afrikaans)
  • umRholi weHlangano ePhikisako  (Southern Ndebele)
  • INkokeli yeQela eliPhikisayo  (Xhosa)
  • UMholi weQembu Eliphikisayo  (Zulu)
  • Umholi Welicembu Leliphikisako  (Swazi)
  • Moetapele wa Lekgotlakgolo la Kganetšo  (Northern Sotho)
  • Moetapele wa Mokga wa Kganyetso  (Sotho)
  • Moeteledi wa Kganetso  (Tswana)
  • Murhangeri wa Vukaneti  (Tsonga)
  • Murangaphanḓa wa Ḽihoro Ḽihanedzi  (Venda)
John Steenhuisen

since 27 October 2019
StyleThe Honourable
Term lengthWhile leader of the largest political party not in government
Inaugural holderLeander Starr Jameson
Formation15 September 1910

The Leader of the Opposition in South Africa is a title held by the leader of the largest party, not forming part of the government, in the most important house of Parliament. This was the House of Assembly from 1910 to 1994 and the National Assembly from 1994. He or she acts as the public face of the opposition, leading the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet and the challenge to the government on the floor of Parliament. They thus act as a chief critic of the government and ultimately attempt to portray the opposition as a feasible alternate government.

The position of Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly is currently held by John Steenhuisen of the Democratic Alliance, who was appointed on 27 October 2019.

In the list below, when the office is said to be vacant, there was no opposition party with more than ten seats and no clear Leader of the Opposition has been identified. This was the case between the formation of the Hertzog-Smuts coalition in 1933 and the breakaway of the Purified National Party in 1934. It was also the case during the government of National Unity from 1994 until the National Party ministers resigned in 1996.

In some cases, the Leader of the Opposition may have been the Parliamentary leader only, during a vacancy in the party leadership and the first part of their own tenure, before being confirmed as national party leader by a party congress. Only the last two Leaders of the Opposition in the list have been Parliamentary leaders only, whilst the incumbent national party leader was not a Member of Parliament.

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Legal definition

Section 56 of the South Africa Act 1909, was amended by Section 1 (b) of the South Africa Act Amendment Act 1946. A salary was provided for the Leader of the Opposition and the office was given an official definition.

"For the purposes of this section the expression 'Leader of the Opposition' shall mean that member of the House of Assembly who is for the time being the Leader in that House of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength in that House and if there is any doubt as to which is or was at any material time the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength in that House of Assembly, or as to who is or was at any material time the Leader in the House of such a party, the question shall be decided for the purposes of this section by the Speaker of the House of Assembly, and his decision, certified in writing under his hand, shall be final and conclusive".[1]

The current Constitution of South Africa makes provision for recognition of the Leader of the Opposition in section 57(2):

"The rules and orders of the National Assembly must provide for … the recognition of the leader of the largest opposition party in the Assembly as the Leader of the Opposition."

Rule 21 of the rules of the National Assembly provides in similar words that:

"The leader of the largest opposition party in the Assembly must be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition."[2]

List of Leaders of the Opposition in South Africa (1910–present)

No. Portrait Leader
Political party Term of office
Leander Starr Jameson
Unionist Party 1910–1912[3]
Thomas Smartt
Unionist Party 1912–1920[4]
JBM Hertzog - SA.jpg
James Barry Munnik Hertzog
National Party 1920–1924
Jan Smuts 1947.jpg
Jan Christiaan Smuts
South African Party 1924–1933
vacant[a] 1933–1934
Walter Madeley.jpg
Walter Madeley
Labour Party
DFMalanPortret (cropped).jpg
Daniel François Malan
Purified National Party 1934–1940
JBM Hertzog - SA.jpg
James Barry Munnik Hertzog
Reunited National Party 1940
DFMalanPortret (cropped).jpg
Daniel François Malan
Reunited National Party 1940–1948
Jan Smuts 1947.jpg
Jan Christiaan Smuts
United Party 1948–1950
KoosStrauss (cropped).jpg
Jacobus Gideon Nel Strauss
United Party 1950–1956
Sir De Villiers Graaff.jpg
Sir De Villiers Graaff
United Party 1956–1977
No image.png
Radclyffe Cadman
New Republic Party 1977
Colin Eglin.jpg
Colin Eglin
Progressive Federal Party 1977–1979
No image.png
Frederik van Zyl Slabbert
Progressive Federal Party 1979–1986
Colin Eglin.jpg
Colin Eglin
Progressive Federal Party 1986–1987
Andries Treurnicht.jpg
Andries Treurnicht
Conservative Party 1987–1993
No image.png
Ferdinand Hartzenberg
(born 1936)
Conservative Party 1993–1994
vacant[b] 1994–1996
General Constand Viljoen (cropped).jpg
Constand Viljoen
Freedom Front
Frederik Willem de Klerk, 1990.jpg
Frederik Willem de Klerk
(born 1936)
National Party 1996–1997
Marthinus van Schalkwyk crop.jpg
Marthinus van Schalkwyk
(born 1959)
New National Party 1997–1999
Tony Leon
(born 1956)
Democratic Party
(until 2000)
Democratic Alliance
(from 2000)
No image.png
Sandra Botha
(born 1945)
Democratic Alliance 2007–2009
Athol Trollip DA MP.jpg
Athol Trollip
(born 1964)
Democratic Alliance 2009–2011
Lindiwe Masibuko DA MP (cropped).jpg
Lindiwe Mazibuko
(born 1980)
Democratic Alliance 2011–2014
Mmusi Maimane (cropped).jpg
Mmusi Maimane
(born 1980)
Democratic Alliance 2014–2019
Annelie Lotriet.jpg
Annelie Lotriet
Democratic Alliance 2019
John Steenhuisen.jpg
John Steenhuisen
(born 1976)
Democratic Alliance 2019–present
  1. ^ During this interval, Walter Madeley of the Labour Party served as de facto leader of the opposition, being leader of the largest party outside government coalition.
  2. ^ During this interval, Constand Viljoen of the Freedom Front Plus served as de facto leader of the opposition, being leader of the largest party outside government coalition.


  • The South African Constitution, by H.J. May (3rd edition 1955, Juta & Co)
  • Keesing's Contemporary Archives, various volumes
  • Smuts: A Reappraisal, by Bernard Friedman (George, Allen & Unwin 1975) ISBN 0-04-920045-3
  • South Africa 1982 Official Yearbook of the Republic of South Africa, published by Chris van Rensburg Publications
  1. ^ The South African Constitution, pages 596–597
  2. ^ "Rules of the National Assembly: 7th Edition" (PDF). Parliament of South Africa. June 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2012.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ The Times, edition of 24 May 1911, a review of the first session of the Union Parliament. South Africa 1982, Jameson first leader of the Unionist Party in 1910; Unionist Party second largest party in the 1st Union Parliament
  4. ^ The Unionists gave some support to the South African Party government, so it could continue in office as a minority government from 1915 to 1920. The Times, article of 21 March 1916 confirms that Smartt was still considered to be the leader of the opposition in the 2nd Parliament of the Union. South Africa 1982, page 166.
This page was last edited on 25 January 2021, at 18:09
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