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Leader of the Opposition (South Africa)

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Leader of the Opposition (South Africa)

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
South Africa
Foreign relations

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 current Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly is Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance. The national party leader Helen Zille is not a member of the National Assembly, but is the Premier of the Western Cape.

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.

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

# Leader Political Party Term of office
1 Leander Starr Jameson Unionist Party 1910–1912[3]
2 Thomas Smartt Unionist Party 1912–1920[4]
3 J. B. M. Hertzog National Party 1920–1924
4 Jan Smuts South African Party 1924–1933
vacant 1933–1934
5 D. F. Malan Purified National Party 1934–1940
(3) J. B. M. Hertzog Reunited National Party 1940
(5) D. F. Malan Reunited National Party 1940–1948
(4) Jan Smuts United Party 1948–1950
6 J. G. N. Strauss United Party 1950–1956
7 Sir De Villiers Graaff United Party 1956–1977
8 Radclyffe Cadman New Republic Party 1977
9 Colin Eglin Progressive Federal Party 1977–1979
10 Frederik van Zyl Slabbert Progressive Federal Party 1979–1986
(9) Colin Eglin Progressive Federal Party 1986–1987
11 Andries Treurnicht Conservative Party 1987–1993
12 Ferdinand Hartzenberg Conservative Party 1993–1994
vacant 1994–1996
13 F. W. de Klerk National Party 1996–1997
14 Marthinus van Schalkwyk New National Party 1997–1999
Tony Leon Democratic Party
(until 2000)
Democratic Alliance
(from 2000)
16 Sandra Botha Democratic Alliance 2007–2009
17 Athol Trollip Democratic Alliance 2009–2011
18 Lindiwe Mazibuko Democratic Alliance 2011–2014
19 Mmusi Maimane Democratic Alliance 2014–Present


  • 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". Parliament of South Africa. June 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  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.
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