The Most Famous And Legendary South Africans Of All Time

South Africa is one of the most versatile and colourful countries in the world, it is a hub that carries everyone along in its web of growing technology and evolution. The country has also produced lots of influential and notable individuals both in the country and in the diaspora. Here we bring to you a list of Top 500+ Famous South Africans that ever lived. Some of them fought and gave their lives to make sure that the generation of South Africa today enjoy freedom and peace. Some lived in South Africa, Some were born away from home while some others lived at home all their life. This list comprises of Present and Past top-ranking politicians, Entertainers, writes and more. Here’s goes the list.

Most Popular South Africans That Ever Lived [Part 1 of 3]

Famous South African Prime Ministers and Presidents

  • Jacobus Boshoff, 2nd President of the Orange Free State (1808–1881)
  • Louis Botha, Boer commander-in-chief and 1st Prime Minister of South Africa (1862–1919)
  • Pieter Willem Botha, 9th and last Prime Minister and 8th State President of South Africa (1916–2006)
  • Johannes Henricus Brand, 4th President of the Orange Free State (1823–1888)
  • Thomas François Burgers, 4th President of South African Republic (1871–1877)
  • Schalk Willem Burger, 6th and last President of South African Republic (1852–1918)
  • Frederik Willem de Klerk, 9th and last State President of South Africa (1990–1994) and joint Nobel Peace Prize winner (born 1936)
  • Nicolaas Johannes Diederichs, 4th State President of South Africa (1903–1978)
  • Jacobus Johannes Fouché, 3rd State President of South Africa (1898–1980)
  • James Barry Munnik Hertzog, Boer general and 3rd Prime Minister of South Africa (1866–1942)
  • Josias Hoffman, 1st President of the Orange Free State (1807–1879)
  • Petrus Jacobus Joubert, Boer general and member of the Troika in the South African Republic (1834–1900)
  • Paul Kruger, member of the Troika, 5th President of South African Republic (1825–1904)
  • Daniel François Malan, 5th Prime Minister of South Africa and is responsible for laying the groundwork for Apartheid (1874–1959)
  • Nelson Mandela, 1st democratically elected President of South Africa and joint Nobel Peace Prize winner (born 1918)
  • Thabo Mbeki, 2nd post-apartheid President of South Africa (born 1942)
  • John X. Merriman, last prime minister of the Cape Colony (1841–1926)
  • Kgalema Motlanthe, 3rd post-apartheid President of South Africa (born 1949)
  • Jozua François Naudé, 2nd State President of South Africa (1889–1969)
  • Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, 3rd President of the Orange Free State, 1st and 3rd President of the ZAR (1819–1901)
  • Francis William Reitz, 5th President of the Orange Free State (1844–1934)
  • Jan Smuts, Boer general, British field marshal, 2nd and 4th Prime Minister of South Africa (1870–1950)
  • Johannes Strijdom, 6th Prime Minister of South Africa (1893–1958)
  • Martinus Theunis Steyn, 6th and last President of the Orange Free State (1857–1916)
  • Charles Robberts Swart, last Governor-General of the Union of South Africa and 1st State President of the RSA (1894–1982)
  • Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, 7th Prime Minister of South Africa and primary architect of Apartheid (1901–1966)
  • Marais Viljoen, 5th and 7th State President of South Africa (1915–2007)
  • Balthazar Johannes Vorster, 8th Prime Minister and 6th State President of South Africa (1915–1983)
  • Jacob Zuma, 4th post-apartheid President of South Africa (born 1942)


See Also: South Africa’s Biggest Cities

Famous South African Royalties

  • Cetshwayo kaMpande, 4th Zulu king (1826–1884)
  • Cyprian Bhekuzulu kaSolomon, 7th Zulu king (1924–1945)
  • Goodwill Zwelethini, 8th and current king of the Zulu nation (born 1948)
  • Dingane kaSenzangakhona, 2nd Zulu king and half-brother of Shaka (1795–1840)
  • Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, 5th Zulu king (1868–1913) not officially recognized
  • Mangosuthu Buthelezi, politician and a Zulu Prince (born 1928)
  • uZibhebhu kaMaphitha, Zulu prince and chief (1841–1904)
  • Masalanabo Modjadji, Balobedu’s 2nd Rain Queen (died 1894)
  • Khetoane Modjadji, Balobedu’s 3rd Rain Queen (1869–1959)
  • Makoma Modjadji, Balobedu’s 4th Rain Queen (1905–1980)
  • Mokope Modjadji, Balobedu’s 5th Rain Queen (1936–2001)
  • Makobo Modjadji, Balobedu’s 6th Rain Queen (1978–2005)
  • Mpande, 3rd Zulu king and half-brother of Shaka (1798–1872)
  • Mzilikazi, king of the Matabele (c. 1790–1868)
  • Sekhukhune, king of the Marota (or Bapedi) (1814–1882)
  • Shaka, founder of the Zulu nation (1787–1828)
  • Solomon kaDinuzulu, 6th Zulu king (1891–1933) not officially recognized


See Also: Top 100 Secondary Schools in South Africa

Famous South African Authors

  • Lady Anne Barnard, travel writer and artist (1750–1825)
  • Herman Charles Bosman, author (1905–1951)
  • André P. Brink, author (born 1935)
  • John Maxwell Coetzee, 2003 Nobel Prize-winning author (born 1940)
  • K. Sello Duiker, novelist (1974–2005)
  • Sir Percy FitzPatrick, writer, businessman and politician (1862–1931)
  • Graeme Friedman, author and clinical psychologist
  • Damon Galgut, author (born 1963)
  • Nadine Gordimer, 1991 Nobel Prize-winning author (born 1923)
  • C. J. Langenhoven, writer and poet (1873–1932)
  • Dalene Matthee, author (1938–2005)
  • Gcina Mhlope, author, storyteller, playwright, director, actor (born 1959)
  • Phaswane Mpe, novelist (1970–2004)
  • Alan Paton, author (1903–1988)
  • Karel Schoeman, novelist and historian (born 1939)
  • Olive Schreiner, author (1855–1920)
  • Etienne van Heerden, novelist (born 1956)
  • Marlene van Niekerk, novelist (born 1954)
  • Lyall Watson, writer (1939–2008)
  • Rachel Zadok, London-based South African writer (born 1972)
  • J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of The Rings (1892-1973)

John Maxwell Coetzee - Famous South African

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Famous South African Actors/Actresses

  • Sandra Prinsloo, South African actress (born 1947) (The Gods Must Be Crazy, Quest for Love (1988 film)) stage(Afrikaan adaption of Miss Julie which saw the first on-screen kiss between a black man and a white woman)
  • Peter Cartwright, actor (born 1935)
  • Sharlto Copley, actor, (District 9) (born 1973)
  • Embeth Davidtz, actress (born 1965)
  • Brett Goldin, actor (1977–2006)
  • David James, actor (born 1972), stage, television, and film actor
  • Sid James, film & television actor (1913–1976)
  • Adhir Kalyan, actor (born 1983)
  • John Kani, actor, entertainer and writer (born 1943)
  • Alice Krige, actress (born 1954)
  • Sean Michael (South African actor), (born 1969)
  • Patrick Mynhardt, actor (1932–2007)
  • Winston Ntshona, actor (born 1941)
  • Sasha Pieterse, actress (born 1996)
  • Basil Rathbone, actor (1892–1967)
  • Stelio Savante, actor (born 1970)
  • Antony Sher, actor, author and painter (born 1949)
  • Cliff Simon, actor (born 1962)
  • William Smith, TV teacher and presenter
  • Janet Suzman, actress (born 1939)
  • Charlize Theron, actress (born 1975)
  • Pieter-Dirk Uys, political satirist and entertainer (born 1945)
  • Musetta Vander, actress (born 1969)
  • Arnold Vosloo, actor (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, 24) (born 1962)

Sasha Pieterse

See Also: South African Famous TV Celebrities

Famous South African Singers, Musicians and Composers

  • Zain Bhikha, world-renowned singer-songwriter of the Nasheed genre
  • Johan Botha, opera singer (born 1965)
  • Johnny Clegg, musician (born 1953)
  • Mimi Coertse, opera singer (born 1932)
  • Fanie de Jager, operatic tenor (born 1949)
  • Lucky Dube, reggae singer (1964–2007)
  • Daniel Friedman (Deep Fried Man), musical comedian (born 1981)
  • Claire Johnston, singer
  • David Kramer, singer and playwright (born 1951)
  • Winston Ngozi Mankunku tenor sax player (1943–2009)
  • Mahlathini, mbaqanga singer (1938-1999)
  • Miriam Makeba, singer and civil rights activist (born 1940)
  • Manfred Mann, musician (born 1940)
  • Hugh Masekela, jazz trumpeter and singer (born 1940)
  • Gwendolyn Masin, violinist, author, pedagogue (born 1977)
  • Aquiles Priester, drummer (born 1971)
  • Koos Ras, comedian, singer, writer, composer (1928–1997)
  • Enoch Sontonga, composer of national anthem (1873–1905)
  • Joseph Shabalala, founder and director of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (born 1941)
  • Shaun Morgan, lead singer of the award-winning band Seether (born c. 1978)
  • Dave Matthews, musician, Dave Matthews Band (born c. 1967)
  • ZP Theart, singer, ex Dragonforce (born c. 1974)
  • Hilda Tloubatla, lead singer of Mahotella Queens (born 1942)
  • Trevor Rabin, musician, composer, former member of progressive rock band Yes
  • Watkin Tudor Jones, rapper, performance artist, band member of Die Antwoord
  • Yolandi Visser, rapper, performance artist, band member of Die Antwoord

lucky-dube - Famous South African

Famous South African Leaders and Politicians

  • Ken Andrew, politician (born 1943)
  • Kader Asmal, an activist, politician and professor of human rights (born 1934)
  • Sibusiso Bengu, politician (born 1934)
  • Thozamile Botha, politician (born 1948)
  • Cheryl Carolus, politician (born 1958)
  • Yusuf Dadoo, doctor and politician (1909–1983)
  • Patricia de Lille, politician (born 1951)
  • Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, politician (born 1949)
  • Abba Eban, Israeli diplomat and politician (1915–2002)
  • De Villiers Graaff, United Party opposition leader (1913–1999)
  • Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, journalist and politician (1845–1909)
  • Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, academic and politician (1894–1948)
  • Danny Jordaan, politician and soccer administrator (born 1951)
  • Tony Leon, DA opposition leader (born 1956)
  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, politician and 2nd wife of Nelson Mandela (born 1936)
  • Trevor Manuel, minister of finance (born 1956)
  • Lindiwe Mazibuko, current Parliamentary Leader for the opposition Democratic Alliance (born 1980)
  • Roelf Meyer, politician and businessman (born 1947)
  • Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, deputy president (born 1955)
  • Gagathura (Monty) Mohambry Naicker, medical doctor and politician (1910–1978)
  • Bulelani Ngcuka, politician (born 1954)
  • Dullah Omar, politician (1934–2004)
  • Andries Pretorius, Boer leader and commandant-general (1799–1853)
  • Deneys Reitz, Boer commando, deputy Prime Minister and High Commissioner to London (1882–1944)
  • Pixley ka Isaka Seme, ANC founder member (1881–1951)
  • Mbhazima Shilowa, trade unionist and premier (born 1958)
  • Joe Slovo, politician (1926–1995)
  • Harry Schwarz, lawyer, politician, ambassador to the United States and anti-apartheid leader (1924–2010)
  • Helen Suzman, politician (1917–2009)
  • Catherine Taylor, politician (1914–1992)
  • Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, PFP opposition leader (1940–2010)
  • Helen Zille, DA opposition leader, current Premier of the Western Cape (born 1951)
  • Jacob Zuma, current President (born 1942)
See also
Sir Trill Biography: His Age, Real Name and Songs that Made Him Popular

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

See Also: Famous South African Movie Actors 

Famous South African Theologians

  • Ahmed Deedat (1918–2005)
  • David Bosch (1929–1992)
  • Dion Forster (born 1972)
  • Johan Heyns (1928–1994)
  • Andrew Murray (1828–1917)
  • Bhakti Narasimha Swami (born 1960)

Famous South African Academics

  • Estian Calitz, academic (born 1949)
  • Miriam Green, academic now living in England
  • Adam Habib, political scientist
  • Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, academic and politician (1894–1948)
  • Tshilidzi Marwala, academic and businessman (born 1971)
  • Njabulo Ndebele, Principal of the University of Cape Town (born 1948)
  • Adriaan N Pelzer, Historian and Vice-Principle University Pretoria (1915-1981)
  • Pierre de Villiers Pienaar, Pioneering role in speech language therapy and lexicography in South Africa (1904–1978)
  • Calie Pistorius, academic and Principal of the University of Pretoria (born 1958)
  • David Webster, anthropologist (1945–1989)

Famous South African Scientists

  • Andrew Geddes Bain, geologist (1797–1864)
  • Peter Beighton, geneticist (born 1934)
  • Wilhelm Bleek, linguist (1827–1875)
  • Robert Broom, palaeontologist (1866–1951)
  • Sydney Brenner, biologist, 2002 Physiology or Medicine Nobel Prize winner (born 1927)
  • Phillip Clancey, ornithologist (1918–2001)
  • Allan McLeod Cormack, physicist (1924–1998)
  • Clement Martyn Doke, linguist (1893–1980)
  • Alexander du Toit, geologist (1878–1948)
  • Robert Allen Dyer, botanist (1900-1987))
  • J.W.B. Gunning, zoologist (1860–1913)
  • David Lewis-Williams, archaeologist (born 1934)
  • Lucy Lloyd, anthropologist (1834–1914)
  • Thebe Medupe, astrophysicist (born 1973)
  • Hans Merensky, geologist (1871–1952)
  • Austin Roberts, zoologist (1883–1948)
  • Basil Schonland, physicist (1896–1972)
  • J.L.B. Smith, ichthyologist (1897–1968)
  • Phillip Tobias, palaeontologist (1925–2012)

Famous South African Medical and Veterinary Doctors

  • Abraham Manie Adelstein, UK Chief Medical Statistician (1916–1992)
  • Christiaan Barnard, pioneering heart surgeon (1922–2001)
  • Wouter Basson, apartheid medical scientist (born 1950)
  • Patrick Soon-Shiong, surgeon, founder Abraxis BioScience, billionaire (born 1952)
  • Arnold Theiler, veterinarian (1867–1936)
  • Max Theiler, virologist, 1951 Nobel Prize winner (1899–1972)

Famous South Africans That Are Entrepreneurs

  • Raymond Ackerman, businessman (born 1931)
  • Barney Barnato, mining magnate (1852–1897)
  • David Brink, businessman (born 1939)
  • John Fairbairn, founder of Mutual Life
  • Sol Kerzner, hotel magnate (born 1935)
  • Basetsana Kumalo, former Miss South Africa, presenter and businesswoman (born 1974)
  • Sammy Marks, businessman (1844–1920)
  • Patrice Motsepe, businessman (born 1962)
  • Elon Musk, Internet and space launch entrepreneur (born 1971)
  • Harry Oppenheimer, businessman (1908–2000)
  • Charles Purdon, agricultural pioneer (1838–1926)
  • Mamphela Ramphele, political activist, academic, businesswoman and mother to the son of Steve Biko (born 1947)
  • Cyril Ramaphosa, politician and businessman (born 1952)
  • Cecil Rhodes, businessman (1853–1902)
  • Anton Rupert, businessman and conservationist (1916–2006)
  • Johann Rupert, businessman, son of Anton Rupert (born 1950)
  • Tokyo Sexwale, politician and businessman (born 1953)
  • Mark Shuttleworth, web entrepreneur, founder of Thawte and Ubuntu Linux, space tourist (born 1973)
  • Roelof Botha, is a venture capitalist and company director.
  • George Rex, pioneer entrepreneur of the Southern Cape (1765-1839)
Raymond Ackerman - famous south africans

See Also: A Comprehensive list of South Africa’s Largest Cities

Famous South African Athletics

Oscar Pistorius, disabled runner - famous south africans

  • Okkert Brits, pole-vaulter (born 1973)
  • Zola Budd, marathon and long-distance runner (born 1966)
  • Hestrie Cloete, high jumper (born 1978)
  • Bruce Fordyce, ultra-marathon runner (born 1955)
  • Jacques Freitag, high jumper (born 1982)
  • Llewellyn Herbert, 400m hurdles, Olympic bronze medallist (born 1977)
  • Frantz Kruger, discus thrower (born 1975)
  • Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, middle distance runner, Olympic silver medallist (born 1980)
  • Oscar Pistorius, disabled runner (born 1986)
  • Hezekiél Sepeng, middle distance runner, Olympic silver medallist (born 1974)
  • Josia Thugwane, marathon runner, Olympic gold medallist (born 1971)
  • Louis Jacob van Zyl, 400m hurdles, Commonwealth Games gold medallist (born 1985)

Famous South African Activists and Trade Unionists

Khoisan X - popular south africans

  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (born 1936)
  • Zackie Achmat, AIDS activist (born 1962)
  • Neil Aggett, political activist and trade unionist (c. 1953–1982)
  • Jeremy Baskin, trade unionist (born 1956)
  • Edward Bhengu, founder member of the PAC (1934–2010)
  • Steve Biko, nonviolent political activist (1946–1977)
  • John Langalibalele Dube, first president of the ANC (1871–1946)
  • Chris Hani, political activist (1942–1993)
  • Irene Grootboom, housing rights activist (c. 1969–2008)
  • Ruth Hayman, anti-apartheid campaigner (died 1981)
  • Ahmed Kathrada, political activist (born 1929)
  • Adolph Malan, fighter pilot and civil rights activist (1910–1963)
  • Govan Mbeki, political activist and father of Thabo Mbeki (1910–2001)
  • Robert McBride, anti-apartheid assassin and later police chief (born 1963)
  • Fatima Meer, scientist and political activist (1928–2010)
  • Vuyisile Mini, unionist and Umkhonto we Sizwe activist (1920–1964)
  • Elias Motsoaledi, political activist (1924–1994)
  • Griffiths Mxenge, anti-apartheid activist (1935–1981)
  • Victoria Mxenge, anti-apartheid activist (1942–1985)
  • Lilian Ngoyi, anti-apartheid activist (1911–1980)
  • Rachel Simons, communist and trade unionist (1914–2004)
  • Albertina Sisulu, political activist and wife of Walter Sisulu (born 1919)
  • Walter Sisulu, political activist (1912–2003)
  • Robert Sobukwe, political activist (1924–1978)
  • Oliver Tambo, political activist (1917–1993)
  • Khoisan X, political activist (1955–2010)

Famous South African Legal, Police and Military Personnel

Arthur Chaskalson
  • Lourens Ackermann, constitutional court judge (born 1934)
  • Ismail Ayob, lawyer (born 1942)
  • George Bizos, lawyer (born 1928)
  • Louis Botha Boer War General, captured Winston Churchill during the Second Boer War, also one of the signatories of the Treaty of Vereeniging (1862-1919)
  • Arthur Chaskalson, judge (born 1931)
  • Piet Cronjé, Boer general and commander-in-chief of ZAR’s military forces (1840–1911)
  • Koos de la Rey, Boer general (1847–1914)
  • Pierre de Vos, constitutional law scholar (born 1963)
  • Christiaan Rudolph de Wet, Boer general and acting President of the Orange Free State (1854–1922)
  • Johannes Christiaan de Wet, legal academic (1912–1990)
  • Bram Fischer, advocate QC and political activist (1908–1975)
  • Richard Goldstone, ex-constitutional court judge (born 1938)
  • Harold Hanson, advocate QC (1904–1973)
  • Sydney Kentridge, former advocate of the Supreme Court and Acting Justice of the Constitutional Court (born 1922)
  • Mervyn E. King, former judge of the Supreme Court of South Africa and chairman of the King Committee on Corporate Governance
  • Pius Langa, chief justice of constitutional court (born 1939)
  • Magnus Malan, minister of defence and chief of the South African Defence Force (born 1930)
  • Cecil Margo, judge (1915–2000)
  • Mogoeng Mogoeng, Chief Justice of South Africa (born 1961)
  • Sandile Ngcobo, former Chief Justice of South Africa (born 1953)
  • Bulelani Ngcuka, director of public prosecutions (born 1954)
  • Marmaduke Pattle Highest scoring Allied Air Ace of World War Two (1914-1941)
  • Albie Sachs, justice in constitutional court (born 1935)
  • Jackie Selebi, national commissioner of police (born 1950)
  • Percy Sonn, former head of the Directorate of Special Operations (1947–2007)
  • Sir Robert Clarkson Tredgold, Chief Justice of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1899–1977)
  • Percy Yutar, South Africa’s first Jewish attorney-general and prosecutor of Nelson Mandela in the 1963 Rivonia Treason Trial (1911–2002)

Famous South African Photographers

Kevin Carter - famous south africans
  • Kevin Carter (1961–1994)
  • Ernest Cole (1940–1990)
  • David Goldblatt, photographer (born 1930)
  • Bob Gosani (1934–1972)
  • Alf Kumalo (1930-2012)
  • Peter Magubane (born 1932)
  • Jürgen Schadeberg (born 1931)
  • Austin Stevens (born 1951)

Famous South African Supermodels, Socialites and Media Personalities

Minki-van-der-Westhuizen - famous south africans
Image credit:
  • Jani Allan, radio personality, journalist (born 1953)
  • Riaan Cruywagen, TV newsreader (born 1945)
  • Trevor Denman, horse racing announcer (born 1952)
  • Alan Khan, radio personality (born 1971)
  • Jeremy Mansfield, radio and TV personality
  • Candice Swanepoel, Victoria’s Secret model (born 1988)
  • Gina Athans, model, international socialite
  • Charlize Theron
  • Megan McKenzie
  • Minki van der Westhuizen, model and TV presenter
  • Debora Patta, broadcast journalist and television producer
  • Jeremy Maggs, journalist, radio host and television presenter

Famous South African Colonial and Union Governors

Jan van Riebeeck
  • George Grey, Cape governor (1812–1898)
  • Jan Willem Janssens, Cape Governor (1762–1838)
  • Benjamin d’Urban, Cape Governor (1834-1837)
  • Benjamin Pine, Natal governor (1809–1891)
  • Harry Smith, Cape governor 1847–52 (1787–1860)
  • Andries Stockenström, governor of British Kaffraria (1792–1964)
  • Simon van der Stel, first Cape governor (1639–1712)
  • Willem Adriaan van der Stel, second Cape governor (1664–1723)
  • Jan van Riebeeck, founder of Cape settlement (1619–1677)
  • Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet (1873–1960), Chief Justice of South Africa and acting Governor-General


  1. Stacey Dresner and Judie Jacobson (29 December 2004). “Movers & Shakers in 2004“.
  2. Graeme Macpherson (11 June 2008). “Furman: I’m not going anywhere”
  3. Encyclopedia of Nations, Famous South Africans
  4. Biographies of Famous South Africans
  5. Lys van bekende Suid-Afrikaners
  6. Nobel Laureates and Country of Birth
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Andile Smith
Andile Smith
Andile provides articles on anything from Politics, Sports, History and entertainment to funny, creepy and weird. His passion for writing allows him to take what is ordinary and transform it into a real masterpiece. He's a true storyteller with a passion for tech and literature


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