Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet

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Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet
Nicolaas de Wet.jpg
Officer Administering the Government of South Africa (acting Governor-General of South Africa)
In office
17 July 1943 – 1 January 1946
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterJan Smuts
Preceded bySir Patrick Duncan
Succeeded byGideon Brand van Zyl
8th Chief Justice of South Africa
In office
Appointed byJan Smuts
Preceded byJames Stratford
Succeeded byE. F. Watermeyer

Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet, PC, QC (11 September 1873 – 16 March 1960) was a South African politician, lawyer, and judge who was Chief Justice of South Africa and acting Governor-General from 1943 to 1945.

Early life[edit]

De Wet was born and went to school in Aliwal North, and attended Victoria College in Stellenbosch.[1] He then went to Downing College at the University of Cambridge, from which he earned his LLB (First Class, with the Chancellor's Medal) in 1895. He was admitted as an advocate (the South African equivalent of a barrister) in 1896.[2] During the Anglo-Boer War he was military secretary to General Louis Botha, commandant-general of the Transvaal forces, and acted as an interpreter at the peace conference that ended the war in 1902.

Political career[edit]

After the war, de Wet joined Botha in politics, and was a member of the Transvaal legislative assembly from 1907 to 1910. He was a legal adviser to the Transvaal delegation to the 1908-1909 National Convention that drew up the Constitution for the Union of South Africa. In 1913, he was appointed a King's Counsel. He was also a founder member of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns ("South African Academy for Science and Art") in 1909.

De Wet was a member of the Union Parliament between 1913 and 1929, serving as a member of the House of Assembly from 1913 to 1920 and a Senator from 1920 to 1929. He served in the South African Party government as Minister of Justice from 1913 to 1924. As such, he had to deal with the legal aspects of an armed Afrikaner uprising against the government in 1914, and the 1922 Rand Revolt.

Judicial career[edit]

De Wet was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court in 1932, a judge of the Appeal Court in 1937, and Chief Justice in 1939. As Chief Justice, he was required ex officio to act as Officer Administering the Government under a dormant commission, in the absence of the Governor-General, which he did for two and a half years, from the death of Sir Patrick Duncan in 1943 and the appointment of Gideon Brand van Zyl in 1945.

He was appointed a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 1939.

Family life[edit]

De Wet was married twice. His first wife was Ella Scheepers, who is reputed to have composed the popular Afrikaans song Sarie Marais during the Anglo-Boer War. His second wife was Jakomina du Toit. He died in 1960. His son by his first marriage, Dr. Quartus de Wet, was also a judge, and presided over the 1963 Rivonia Treason Trial of Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists.


  1. ^ Girvin, Stephen D. (1996). Zimmermann, Reinhard; Visser, Daniel (eds.). Southern Cross: Civil Law and Common Law in South Africa. Clarendon. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-19-826087-5.
  2. ^ "De Wet, Nicholas Jacobus (D893NJ)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  • Dictionary of South African Biography Volume IV
Political offices
Preceded by Governor-General of South Africa
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Chief Justice of South Africa
Succeeded by