Remarkable People

ID #5172

Paul Kruger, President of the South African (Transvaal) Republic, South Africa.

Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger (1825–1904), affectionately known as "Oom Paul", was State President of the South African Republic (Transvaal). He gained renown as the face of Boer resistance during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Kruger was a descendant of German immigrants. His ancestor, Jacobus Krüger, emigrated from Berlin in 1713 to work as a mercenary for the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He was born at Bulhoek, his grandfather's farm west of Steynsburg and grew up on the farm Vaalbank. He received only three months of formal education but became knowledgeable from life in the veld.

Kruger's father, Casper Kruger, joined Hendrik Potgieter when the Great Trek started in 1835. The trekkers crossed the Vaal River in 1838 and at first stayed in the Potchefstroom area. In 1841 they decided to settle in the Rustenburg district and Kruger chose a farm at the foot of the Magaliesberg. The following year he married Maria du Plessis, and, together with his father, went to live in the Eastern Transvaal. After the family had returned to Rustenburg, Kruger's wife and infant son died, probably from fever. In 1847 he married Gezina du Plessis, with whom he remained until her death in 1901. The couple had seven daughters and nine sons, some of whom died in infancy.

Kruger was deeply religious. He claimed to have only one book – i.e. the Bible, which he apparently knew off by heart. He was a founding member of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. He began military service as a field cornet in the commandos and eventually became Commandant-General of the South African Republic. He was appointed member of a commission of the Volksraad, the parliament that was to draw up a constitution. People began to take notice of him and he played a prominent part in ending the quarrel between the leader, Stephanus Schoeman, and M.W. Pretorius. He was present at the Sand River Convention in 1852.  In 1873, Kruger resigned as Commandant-General and for a time retired to his farm, Boekenhoutfontein. However, in 1874, he was elected to the Executive Council and shortly afterwards became Vice-President of the Transvaal. Following annexation in 1877 he became leader of the resistance movement. During the same year, he visited Britain for the first time. In 1878, he formed part of a second deputation. A highlight of his visit was when he ascended in a hot air balloon and saw Paris from the air.

The First Boer War started in 1880, and Boer forces were victorious at Majuba. Once again, Kruger played a critical role in the negotiations with the British, which led to the restoration of the Transvaal's independence. In 1880, at age 55, Kruger was elected President of the Transvaal. One of his first goals was a revision of the agreement between the Boers and the British (the Pretoria Convention) that ended the First Anglo-Boer War. He left for Britain in 1883, empowered to negotiate with Lord Derby. Kruger also visited the Continent, which became a triumph in 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.

Things changed rapidly in the Transvaal after the discovery of gold. It gave rise to the uitlander (foreigner) problem. Kruger acknowledged in his memoirs that General Joubert predicted the events that followed afterwards, declaring that instead of rejoicing at 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 Jameson raid took place. Jameson was forced to surrender and was taken to Pretoria, where he was handed over to the British for punishment.

In 1898, Kruger was elected President for the fourth and final time. In October 1899 the Second Boer War broke out. On 7 May the following year, Kruger attended the last session of the Volksraad and fled Pretoria as Lord Roberts advanced. For weeks he stayed in a house at Waterval Onder or in his railway carriage at Machadodorp. In October, he fled to Mozambique. There he boarded the Dutch warship Gelderland, sent by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and which had ignored the British naval blockade. He left his wife, who was ill at the time. She remained in South Africa and died on 20 July 1901. Kruger went to Marseille and from there to Paris. In December 1900 he traveled to Germany but Kaiser Wilhelm refused to see him. From Germany he went to the Netherlands, where he stayed in rented homes in Hilversum and Utrecht. He also stayed in Menton, France before moving to Clarens in Switzerland where he died on 14 July 1904. His body was buried in The Hague and later and reburied in Heroes Acre in Pretoria.

Kruger was a large squarely built man, with brown eyes and dark brown hair which went white with age. Initially he wore a moustache and full beard but in later years wore only a chinstrap beard. He was often 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 top hat and frock coat, smoking his pipe, was exploited by British cartoonists. According to legend, he was named Mamelodi'a Tshwane ("whistler of the Apies River") by its inhabitants for his ability to whistle and imitate bird calls. The Kruger National Park is named after him as is the Krugerrand, which features his face on the obverse. Pipe manufacturers still produce a style named "Oom Paul", the characteristic large-bowled full-bent shape seen in his photographs. Incidentally Kruger believed that the Earth was flat. In 1897 he said to a sailor sailing round the world "You don't mean round the world, it is impossible! You mean in the world. Impossible!"

There are streets and squares named after Kruger in Dutch towns and cities. In Amsterdam's Transvaalbuurt is a Krugerstraat and a Krugerplein. These names were given some years after the Second Anglo-Boer War. A street in St. Galen, Switzerland was named Krugerstrasse, most probably because of his reputation as a freedom fighter. RSAPK

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Last update: 2014-03-02 21:38
Author: Alan McIver
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