Famous South African Leaders

Find out more about the greatest South African Leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Cecil Rhodes, Jacob Zuma, Desmond Tutu and Shaka.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite South African Leaders

 1 Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
100
Famous As: Anti-Apartheid Activist, President of ANC and Former President of South Africa
Birthdate: July 18, 1918
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mvezo
Died: December 5, 2013
Revered as the Father of the Nation by the South Africans, Nelson Mandela was a statesman who rose to become the country’s first black head of state. He reconciled a nation divided along racial lines and dismantled the legacy of apartheid.

 2 Shaka

Shaka
7
Famous As: Zulu Emperor
Birthdate: 1787 AD
Birthplace: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Died: September 22, 1828

Widely regarded as one of the most influential and important monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom, Shaka reigned as the king of the Zulu Kingdom from 1816 to 1828. Through a series of influential and wide-reaching reforms, Shaka was able to re-organize the Zulu military into a formidable force. His life and work inspired the 1986 South African TV series, Shaka Zulu.

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 3 Thabo Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki
6
Famous As: Politician, Economist
Birthdate: June 18, 1942
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Transkei

Thabo Mbeki is a South African politician who is currently serving as the chancellor of the University of South Africa. From 1999 to 2008, he served as the president of South Africa. During his tenure as the president, the South African economy grew, creating employment opportunities. Over the years, he has received several awards, including the prestigious Good Governance Award.

 4 Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma
23
Famous As: Fourth President of South Africa
Birthdate: April 12, 1942
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal

Jacob Zuma is a South African politician and fourth president of South Africa. During his presidency, which lasted from 2009 to 2018, Zuma was accused of racketeering and corruption which ultimately led to his resignation. Apart from being a politician, Zuma also runs the Jacob Zuma Foundation, which aims at building houses for the poor and sending children to school.

 5 Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
28
Famous As: Politician, Anti-Apartheid Activist
Birthdate: September 26, 1936
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bizana, Eastern Cape
Died: April 2, 2018
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had first met legendary anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela at a bus stop when she was barely 22. They ended up getting married the following year. Winnie’s journey was marred by bans and harassment by the South African government, but the determined social worker revolutionized South African politics.

 6 P. W. Botha

P. W. Botha
5
Famous As: Former Prime Minister of South Africa
Birthdate: January 12, 1916
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paul Roux, South Africa
Died: October 31, 2006
Better known as PW, Pieter Willem Botha had been the president and prime minister of South Africa. A law school drop-out, Botha grew up to unsuccessfully attempt a reconciliation between apartheid sympathizers and all-Black student and labor organizations. His refusal to testify before the TRC invited a fine.

 7 Paul Kruger

Paul Kruger
8
Famous As: President of South Africa
Birthdate: October 10, 1825
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Whittlesea, South Africa
Died: July 14, 1904

Paul Kruger was a South African politician who served as the last State President of the South African Republic. Revered by his admirers as a tragic folk hero, Kruger was one of the most influential military and political personalities in 19th-century South Africa. His life inspired the 1941 German film Ohm Krüger, in which Kruger was played by Emil Jannings.

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 8 Oliver Tambo

Oliver Tambo
6
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: October 27, 1917
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Mbizana Local Municipality
Died: April 24, 1993

Oliver Tambo was a South African revolutionary and politician who played an important role in the anti-apartheid movement alongside Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. In 1943, he helped found the ANC Youth League and later served as the African National Congress' president. He is also remembered for organizing several guerilla units that facilitated attacks against the apartheid state.

 9 Louis Botha

Louis Botha
4
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: September 27, 1862
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Greytown
Died: August 27, 1919

 10 Chris Hani

Chris Hani
5
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: June 28, 1942
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Transkei
Died: April 10, 1993

Chris Hani was a South African politician who led the South African Communist Party from 1991 to 1993. One of the most important and influential fighters against the apartheid government, Hani played an important role in the development of the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was assassinated by a Polish immigrant named Janusz Waluś.

 11 F. W. de Klerk

F. W. de Klerk
9
Famous As: Former State President of South Africa
Birthdate: March 18, 1936
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa
F. W. de Klerk served as the State President of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 and as the Deputy President from 1994 to 1996. He was also the National Party leader from 1989 to 1997. His government helped crush the apartheid system and established universal suffrage. 

 12 Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa
17
Famous As: President of South Africa
Birthdate: November 17, 1952
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Soweto

Cyril Ramaphosa is a politician and the current president of South Africa. Also the president of South Africa's popular political party African National Congress (ANC), Ramaphosa played a key role during the nation's transition to democracy during which he served as ANC's chief negotiator. He also played a crucial role in ending apartheid and was considered Nelson Mandela's political heir.

 13 Kgalema Motlanthe

Kgalema Motlanthe
6
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: July 19, 1949
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Johannesburg

Kgalema Motlanthe is a South African politician who played an important role during the struggle against apartheid; he was part of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, an armed wing of the ANC. Between 2008 and 2009, Motlanthe served as the third president of South Africa. He is often seen as an important figure behind the political success of Jacob Zuma.

 14 Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Mangosuthu Buthelezi
7
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: August 27, 1928
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Mahlabathini, South Africa

Mangosuthu Buthelezi is a South African politician who is credited with founding the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). He was widely regarded as one of the most important black leaders during the apartheid era. From 1994 to 2004, he served as South Africa's minister of home affairs. He has also won many awards, such as Nadaraja Award and Magna Award.

 15 Eugène Ney Terre'Blanche

Eugène Ney Terre'Blanche
8
Famous As: Police officer
Birthdate: January 31, 1941
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Ventersdorp, South Africa
Died: April 3, 2010

Eugène Ney Terre'Blanche was an Afrikaner nationalist who played an important role in the establishment of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, which he led from 1973 to 2010. An influential personality, Terre'Blanche's philosophy and beliefs have continued to influence white supremacists around the world. His life and career inspired a couple of documentaries, including His Big White Self.

 16 Julius Malema

Julius Malema
13
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: March 3, 1981
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Seshego

Julius Malema is a South African activist and politician. He is credited with founding a South African political party called the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), for which he currently serves as the president and commander-in-chief. One of the most controversial politicians in South Africa, Malema was charged with racketeering, money laundering, and fraud in 2012.

 17 Helen Zille

Helen Zille
5
Famous As: Politician, Journalist
Birthdate: March 9, 1951
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Johannesburg

Helen Zille is a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician. A former journalist, Zille played a major role in exposing the cover-up surrounding the death of Steve Biko, a fellow anti-apartheid activist. In 2008, she was chosen as World Mayor of the Year.

 18 Tokyo Sexwale

Tokyo Sexwale
7
Famous As: Politician, Businessperson
Birthdate: March 5, 1953
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Transvaal

Tokyo Sexwale is a South African anti-apartheid activist, politician, businessman, and former political prisoner. He was imprisoned alongside personalities like Nelson Mandela for his anti-apartheid activities. Over the years, he has received several awards and honours, including honorary doctorates from various universities. In 2004, he was named in the Top 100 Great South Africans list.

 19 Walter Sisulu

Walter Sisulu
7
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: May 18, 1912
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Ngcobo, South Africa
Died: May 5, 2003

Walter Sisulu was a South African activist who played an important role in the anti-apartheid movement. Counted among the most important members of the ANC, Sisulu served more than 25 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities. For his contribution to the success of the ANC, Sisulu was honored with the prestigious Isitwalandwe Seaparankoe in 1992.

 20 Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Kathrada
4
Famous As: Politician, Activism
Birthdate: August 21, 1929
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Schweizer-Reneke
Died: March 28, 2017

Ahmed Kathrada was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician. He is best remembered for his involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, which landed him in jail following the infamous Rivonia Trial. In 1988, he was honored with ANC's highest possible award, the Isitwalandwe Award. In 2004, he was named in the Top 100 Great South Africans list.

 21 Joe Slovo

Joe Slovo
4
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: May 23, 1926
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Obeliai
Died: January 6, 1995

Joe Slovo was a South African politician. One of the most important members of the ANC, Slovo played an important role in the development of Umkhonto we Sizwe, ANC's military wing. A Marxist-Leninist, he also led the South African Communist Party for many years. He was portrayed by Malcolm Purkey in Catch a Fire, a film about anti-apartheid activists.

 22 Zindzi Mandela

Zindzi Mandela
5
Famous As: Diplomat
Birthdate: December 23, 1960
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: July 13, 2020

Zindzi Mandela was a South African poet and diplomat best known as the daughter of the famous anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela. From 1996 to 1998, she also served as a temporary First Lady of South Africa. Over the years, she has been portrayed in films and TV films, such as Mrs Mandela (2009), Invictus (2009), and Mandela (1987).

 23 Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
7
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: January 27, 1949
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Natal Province

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a South African anti-apartheid activist, politician, and doctor. One of the most popular South African politicians of her generation, Dlamini-Zuma has served as the country's minister of health, minister of foreign affairs, and minister of home affairs at different periods of time.

 24 Hendrik Verwoerd

Hendrik Verwoerd
11
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: September 8, 1901
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died: September 6, 1966

South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd was immensely infamous for promoting racial segregation and came to be known as one of the pioneers of apartheid. He was stabbed to death in his parliament office by a Mozambican immigrant who was thought to be insane but was a racially disadvantaged man.

 25 Ela Gandhi

Ela Gandhi
5
Famous As: politician
Birthdate: June 1, 1940
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Durban
Ela Gandhi is a South African politician and peace activist whose immense contribution to society and politics is widely recognized. Over the years, she has been honored with several prestigious awards, such as the Community of Christ International Peace Award, Padma Bhushan award, Shanti Doot International Award, and Pravasi Bharatiya Samman. 

 26 Robert Sobukwe

Robert Sobukwe
4
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: December 5, 1924
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Graaff-Reinet
Died: February 27, 1978

 27 Ivan Gazidis

Ivan Gazidis
4
Famous As: Lawyer, Businessperson
Birthdate: September 13, 1964
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Johannesburg
Ivan Gazidis is a South African businessperson, currently serving as the Executive of the popular professional football club A.C. Milan. He is best known for overseeing Major League Soccer's business and key strategic decisions. He is also credited with promoting the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Mexican Football Federation.

 28 Baleka Mbete

Baleka Mbete
6
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: September 24, 1949
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Transvaal

Baleka Mbete is a South African politician who served as the deputy president of South Africa under President Kgalema Motlanthe. From 2014 to 2019, she also served as South Africa's Speaker of the National Assembly. One of the most controversial South African politicians in the recent past, Mbete is an associate of Tony Yengeni, who was accused of defrauding parliament.

 29 Marais Viljoen

Marais Viljoen
4
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: December 2, 1915
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Robertson
Died: January 4, 2007

Marais Viljoen was the fifth state president of South Africa. He became the last ceremonial president of South Africa when Prime Minister P. W. Botha succeeded him in 1984. He continued to express a keen interest in politics even after retiring from public life.

 30 Pik Botha

Pik Botha
4
Famous As: Politician, Diplomat
Birthdate: April 27, 1932
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Rustenburg

Pik Botha was a South African politician who was regarded as a liberal among other politicians of the National Party and the Afrikaner community. In 2013, he appeared in a TV show titled Question Time, in which he discussed the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

 31 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
5
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: November 3, 1955
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Durban

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Under-Secretary-General, was initially a teacher and has also worked at the World YWCA. A women’s rights activist, she works for gender equality and education and has established the Umlambo Foundation. She has also been the South African deputy president. Four of her five children are adopted.

 32 Mamphela Ramphele

Mamphela Ramphele
4
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: December 28, 1947
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Transvaal

 33 Mandla Mandela

Mandla Mandela
7
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: June 21, 1974
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Orlando, Soweto, South Africa

Mandla Mandela is a South African politician and the tribal chief of the Mvezo clan. He is best known as the grandson of the popular anti-apartheid revolutionary, Nelson Mandela. Mandla became the chief of the clan when he was just 32 years old and continues to represent the tribe on various political issues.

 34 Blade Nzimande

Blade Nzimande
3
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: April 14, 1958
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Edendale, KwaZulu-Natal

South African academic and anti-apartheid activist Bonginkosi Emmanuel Nzimande, or Blade Nzimande, is the current Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Technology. The South African Communist Party leader boasts of a PhD in sociology. His books include Children of Wars, which speaks about the impact of violence on education.

 35 Trevor Manuel

Trevor Manuel
5
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: January 31, 1956
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cape Town

South African politician and African National Congress member Trevor Manuel has been a cabinet minister under the first four South African presidents. A qualified civil engineer, he grew up being tagged as a "Cape Coloured" in the apartheid era. He remains one of the longest-serving finance ministers of the world.

 36 Koos de la Rey

Koos de la Rey
3
Famous As: Military officer
Birthdate: October 22, 1847
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Doornfontein, Winburg, South Africa
Died: September 15, 1914

 37 Andries Pretorius

Andries Pretorius
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: November 27, 1798
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Graaff-Reinet
Died: July 23, 1853

Boer leader Andries Pretorius was a chief force behind the creation of the South African Republic. He not only led the Great Trek from British-occupied Cape Colony but also defeated thousands of Zulus in the Battle of Blood. His negotiations with the British led to the Sand River Convention.

 38 Ruth First

Ruth First
5
Famous As: Author, Politician, University teacher, Writer, Journalist, Martyr, Political activist
Birthdate: May 4, 1925
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Johannesburg
Died: August 17, 1982

South African activist/journalist Ruth First is remembered for her relentless fight against apartheid. Born to Latvian immigrants and founders of the South African Communist Party, First was later tried for treason and detained. While working at a Mozambican university in exile, she was assassinated in a parcel bomb attack

 39 Sol Plaatje

Sol Plaatje
3
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: October 9, 1876
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Boshof, South Africa
Died: June 19, 1932
South African writer and journalist Sol Plaatje, known for his novel Mhudi, was well-versed in a number of languages, apart from his native Tswana. He founded what later became the African National Congress and made people across the globe aware of the plight of black Africans in his country.

 40 Helen Suzman

Helen Suzman
4
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: November 7, 1917
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Germiston
Died: January 1, 2009

Born to Lithuanian immigrants in South Africa, Helen Suzman studied commerce and economics, and initially worked as a statistician and a lecturer. A vocal anti-apartheid activist, she later worked for human rights causes and also oversaw the country’s first democratic election as an Independent Electoral Commission member.

 41 Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo
3
Famous As: human rights activist
Birthdate: 1965 AD
Birthplace: Durban

 42 Christiaan de Wet

Christiaan de Wet
3
Famous As: General
Birthdate: October 7, 1854
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Smithfield, South Africa
Died: February 3, 1922

Christiaan de Wet was a Boer general, rebel leader, and politician. He served as a field cornet in the First Anglo-Boer War of 1880–81. Following the war, he became a member of the Volksraad. In the Second Boer War, he took part in the Siege of Ladysmith and the surprise attack on Sanna's Post near Bloemfontein. 

 43 John Langalibalele Dube

John Langalibalele Dube
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: February 22, 1871
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: near Inanda Mission Station, South Africa
Died: February 11, 1946

John Langalibalele Dube was a South African essayist, philosopher, politician, publisher, educator, editor, novelist, and poet. He served as the president of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) from 1912 to 1917. He felt strongly about human rights and founded the Inanda Seminary Institute for Girls. He was passionate about encouraging black people to launch their own businesses. 

 44 Khama III

Khama III
3
Famous As: Tribal Chief
Birthdate: 1837 AD
Birthplace: Bechuanaland Protectorate
Died: February 21, 1923

Khama III was the Kgosi (king) of the Bangwato people. He was also referred to by missionaries as Khama the Good and Khama the Great. As a young man, he had considerable wealth and was well-traveled. He also spoke fluent Dutch. He was baptized into the Lutheran church in 1860 and is remembered as the founder of a Christian state. 

 45 Govan Mbeki

Govan Mbeki
3
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: July 9, 1910
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Transkei, South Africa
Died: August 30, 2001

African National Congress and South African Communist Party leader Govan Mbeki initially worked as a teacher but was fired from his job for his political activities. The anti-apartheid leader was a talented writer, too. He was also the father of Thabo Mbeki, who later served as the South African president.

 46 Mac Jack

Mac Jack
3
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: March 8, 1965
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Graaff-Reinet, South Africa
Died: August 12, 2020
South African educator and African National Congress member McCollen Ntsikelelo Jack, also known as Mac Jack, is remembered for his zeal and his never-say-die attitude. He went from being a teacher to a principal and then to the Northern Cape MEC for Education. He died of COVID-19 at age 55.

 47 D. F. Malan

D. F. Malan
5
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: May 22, 1874
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Riebeek-West in the Cape Colony
Died: February 7, 1959

D. F. Malan was a South African politician. He served as the prime minister of South Africa from 1948 to 1954. He became involved in National Party politics shortly after its formation. The party enforced racial segregation laws and implemented the system of apartheid. As the prime minister, he took steps to firmly lay down the foundations of apartheid. 

 48 Manto Tshabalala-Msimang

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
5
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: October 9, 1940
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
Died: December 16, 2009

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was a South African politician who served as the Deputy Minister of Justice from 1996 to 1999. She was appointed the minister of health under President Thabo Mbeki in 1999. She earned considerable criticism for suggesting the AIDS epidemic should be treated with easily accessible vegetables such as African potato, beetroot, and garlic rather than with antiretroviral medicines. 

 49 Piet Cronjé

Piet Cronjé
3
Famous As: Military General
Birthdate: October 4, 1836
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Cape Colony, South Africa
Died: February 4, 1911

Piet Cronjé was a South African Boer general who participated in both the Anglo-Boer Wars. He besieged the British garrison at Potchefstroom during the First Boer War, making a reputation for himself. He was the general commanding in the western theatre of war during the Second Boer War. He was defeated at the Battle of Paardeberg and surrendered. 

 50 John Vorster

John Vorster
3
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: December 13, 1915
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Jamestown, South Africa
Died: September 10, 1983

South African politician John Vorster had served as both the prime minister and the president of his country. Born to an affluent sheep farmer, he initially practiced law. An apartheid supporter, he was the minister of justice during the Rivonia Trial and was later dragged into the Muldergate Scandal.