Educated at Grey College, Bloemfontein, Paarl Boys’ High School and Victoria College, Stellenbosch.
As a farmer he was an expert in breeding Afrikander cattle and Merino sheep. He entered politics as Nationalist MP for Smithfield in 1941. He was appointed Administrator of the Orange Free State in 1951 and held that post until Prime Minister Verwoerd made him Minister of Defence in 1959.
His major task was the effective implementation of the South Africa Defence Act of November 1, 1958, with amendments he piloted through Parliament in 1961 providing for modernising the armed forces and peacetime training for conscripts between 17 and 25 years of age. Six months after the British arms embargo on South Africa in 1964 Prime Minister Vorster brought in P. W. Botha as Minister of Defence and switched Fouche to Minister of Agricultural Technical Services and Water Affairs in April 1965.
Fouche was second choice as successor to Swart as President. T. E. Donges was elected but became ill before inauguration. Senate leader J. F. T. Naude was acting President until Fouche emerged as a compromise candidate. He was enabled to fulfil a forecast he made in 1967: “We live in Africa in an Africa of free and independent nations—and we will have to do the right thing at the right time.” He pursued the country’s outward-looking policies with enthusiasm and made the first state visit to Malawi in March 1972.
Farmer-politician who took up politics when he had turned 40 years of age and still cherishes his reputation as a judge at agricultural shows almost as much as his achievements in high office. Middle-of-the-road Jim Fouche was one of the First ministers to urge the need for diplomatic exchanges with black African states. One of his most important contributions as President was the confidence he gave the country in its new outward-looking policies. He brought stability after the uncertainty over the presidency in the interregnum following C. R. Swart’s early retirement as first President in May 1967.