Remarkable People

ID #5197

Andries Pretorius, Voortrekker Leader, South Africa.

Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius (1798–1853) was a Boer leader instrumental in the creation of the Transvaal Republic, as well as the short-lived Natalia Republic.

Pretorius was born in 1798, a descendant of the earliest Dutch settlers in South Africa. He was educated at home and became a farmer in Graaff-Reinet. Discontented under British rule, he joined the Great Trek. He crossed the Drakensberg into Natal by way of the Orange Free State, arriving in November 1838, when the Boers were without a recognized leader. Pretorius was chosen as commandant-general and he collected a force to avenge the deaths of Piet Retief and party, who had been killed by Dingane under treacherous circumstances. On 16 December 1838 Pretorius' force of 500 men was attacked by 10,000 Zulus. The Boers beat them off, killing an estimated 3,000 warriors in what became known as the Battle of Blood River.

Until 1910 Afrikaners memorialized the day as "Dingane's Day". It was later renamed "Day of the Vow" by the first South African government. After the fall of apartheid in 1994 the new government kept the day as a public holiday as an act of conciliation to Afrikaners but renamed it the "Day of Reconciliation"'.

In January 1840, Pretorius and 400 burghers helped Mpande against his half-brother Dingane. He was also the leader of the Natal Boers in their opposition to the British. In 1842, Pretorius besieged the British garrison at Durban but retreated to Pietermaritzburg on arrival of reinforcements under Colonel Josias Cloete. Afterwards, he exerted his influence to reach a peaceful solution with the British.

Remaining in Natal as a British subject, Boers were concerned about the migration of natives who were assigned locations to the detriment of Boer land claims. Pretorius was chosen by the Boers to present their grievances to the governor of the Cape in 1847. Pretorius went to Grahamstown to seek an audience with the governor, Sir Henry Pottinger, but he refused to see or communicate with Pretorius, who returned to Natal determined to abandon his farm and move beyond British dominion.

He was preparing to cross the Drakensberg when Sir Harry Smith, newly-appointed governor of the Cape, reached the Boer camp on the Tugela in January 1848. Smith promised them protection and persuaded many to remain. Pretorius departed, and, on proclamation of British sovereignty up to the Vaal River, fixed his residence in the Magaliesberg north of the river. He was chosen by burghers living on either side of the river as commandant-general. At the request of Boers at Winburg, Pretorius crossed the Vaal in July and led an anti-British party in their "war of freedom", occupying Bloemfontein on 20 July. In August, he was defeated by Smith at Boomplaats and retreated north of the Vaal. He became leader of one of the largest of the parties into which the Transvaal Boers were divided, and commandant-general of Potchefstroom and Rustenburg, his principal rival being Commandant-General A. H. Potgieter.

In 1851, Boer malcontents in the Orange River Sovereignty (Free State) and the Basotho chief Moshoeshoe I asked Pretorius to come to their aid. He announced his intention of crossing the Vaal to "restore order" in the Sovereignty. His goal was to obtain acknowledgment of the independence of the Transvaal Boers from the British. Having decided on a policy of abandonment, the British cabinet entertained his proposal. The government withdrew its reward of 2000 pounds, which had been offered for his capture. Pretorius met British commissioners near the Sand River and, on 17 January 1852, concluded the Sand River Convention which recognized the independence of  Transvaal Boers.

Pretorius recrossed the Vaal River, and on 16 March was reconciled to Potgieter at Rustenburg. The followers of both leaders approved the convention. In the same year, Pretorius visited Durban to open trade between Natal and the new republic. In 1852, he attempted to close the road to the interior through Bechuanaland (Botswana) and sent a commando to the western border against Sechele.

Pretorius died at his home at Magaliesberg in July 1853. He is described as "the ablest leader and most perfect representative of the Emigrant Farmers." In 1855, a new district and a new town were formed out of the Potchefstroom and Rustenburg districts by his son, Marthinus Pretorius, who named it Pretoria in honour of his father. RSAAP

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Last update: 2014-05-14 16:41
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.5

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