Southern Kings will replace Golden Lions as one of five South African franchises in the 2013 Super Rugby season, it was announced Thursday.
South African Rugby Union (SARU) officials voted 26-3 in Cape Town to promote the Eastern Cape-based Kings and relegate the Johannesburg Lions, who finished bottom of the southern hemisphere championship table this year.
Coastal Sharks, who finished runners-up this season to Waikato Chiefs of New Zealand, semi-finalists Western Stormers, three-time champions Northern Bulls and consistently improving Central Cheetahs retain their status.
The decision followed months of speculation that included the Lions joining forces with another franchise and the Kings being paid to delay their elevation to the annual competition.
There has been political pressure for many years to promote the Kings, who are expected to play their matches at 2010 FIFA World Cup venue Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in coastal city Port Elizabeth.
Eastern Cape boasts the largest number of black rugby players in the country and officials from the ruling ANC party have expressed unhappiness at what they believed was the neglect of the sport in the region.
New Zealander Matt Sexton was named coach of the Kings last April, but the Currie Cup second-tier leaders have not announced any major signings ahead of the big step-up to Super Rugby.