13 July, 2008

Paul Kruger


Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, better known as Paul Kruger and fondly known as Oom Paul was State President of the South African Republic. He gained international renown as the face of Boer resistance against the British during the South African or Second Boer War (1899-1902).

He started as a field cornet in the commandos, eventually becoming Commandant-General of the South African Republic. He was appointed member of a commission of the Volksraad, the republican parliament that was to draw up a constitution. People began to take notice of the young man and he played a prominent part in ending the quarrel between the Transvaal leader, Stephanus Schoeman, and M.W. Pretorius.

In 1873, Kruger resigned as Commandant-General, and for a time he held no office and retired to his farm, Boekenhoutfontein. However, in 1874 he was elected to the Executive Council and shortly after that became Vice-President of the Transvaal.

Following the annexation of the Transvaal by Britain in 1877, Kruger became the leader of the resistance movement. During the same year, he visited Britain for the first time as leader of a deputation. In 1878, he was part of a second deputation. A highlight of his visit to Europe was when he ascended in a hot air balloon and saw Paris from the air.

The First Boer War, also known as the "First War of Independence", started in 1880, and the British forces were defeated in the decisive battle at Majuba in 1881. Once again, Kruger played an important role in the negotiations with the British, which led to the restoration of the Transvaal's independence under British suzerainty.

On 30 December 1880, at the age of 55, Kruger was elected President of the Transvaal. One of his first aims was the revision of the Pretoria Convention of 1881, the agreement between the Boers and the British that ended the First Boer War. Therefore, he again left for Britain in 1883, empowered to negotiate with Lord Derby. Kruger and his companions also visited the Continent and this visit became a triumph in countries such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Spain. In Germany, he attended an imperial banquet at which he was presented to the Emperor, Wilhelm I, and spoke at length with Bismarck.

In the Transvaal, things changed rapidly after the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand. This momentous discovery was to have far-reaching political repercussions and to give rise to the uitlander, or foreigner, problem, which was eventually to cause the fall of the Republic. Kruger acknowledged in his memiors that General Joubert predicted the events that were to follow afterwards, declaring that instead of rejoicing for the discovery of gold, they should be weeping because it will "cause our land to be soaked in blood."

At the end of 1895, the failed Jameson raid took place; Jameson was forced to surrender, taken to Pretoria and handed over to his British countrymen for punishment.

In 1898, Kruger was elected President for the fourth and last time.

On 11 October 1899, the Second Boer War broke out. On 7 May the following year, Kruger attended the last session of the Volksraad, and left Pretoria on 29 May as Lord Roberts was advancing on the town. For weeks he either stayed in a house at Waterval Onder or in his railway carriage at Machadodorp in the then Eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga. In October, he left South Africa on the Dutch warship De Gelderland, sent by the Queen of the Netherlands Wilhelmina, which had simply ignored the British naval blockade of South Africa. His wife was too ill to travel and remained in South Africa; she died on 20 July 1901.

Kruger went to Marseille and stayed for a while in The Netherlands, before moving to Clarens, Switzerland, where he died on 14 July 1904. He was buried on 16 December 1904 in the Heroes Acre of the Church Street cemetery, Pretoria.
Kruger was a large squarely built man, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. In later years his hair went snowy white. He wore a beard, but never a mustache. He mostly went dressed in a black frock coat with a top hat. Never far from his pipe, he was a chain smoker. The image of Kruger in his top hat and frock coat, smoking his pipe was used to great effect in the Anglo-Boer war by British cartoonists.

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