Remarkable People

ID #5204

Louis Botha, Soldier and Statesman, South Africa.

Louis Botha (1862– 1919) was the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa.

He was one of 13 children born to Louis Botha and Salomina van Rooyen in Greytown. He represented Vryheid in the Transvaal parliament in 1897. Two years later he fought in the Second Anglo-Boer War, initially under Lucas Meyer in Northern Natal, and later commanding and fighting with impressive skill at Colenso and Spioenkop. On the death of P. J. Joubert, he was made commander-in-chief of the Transvaal Boers, where he again demonstrated his abilities at Dalmanutha. General Botha captured Churchill when Boers ambushed a British armoured train on 15 November 1899. Churchill was not aware of the man's identity until Botha traveled to London seeking loans to assist in the country's reconstruction.

After the fall of Pretoria Botha led a guerrilla campaign together with Koos de la Rey and Christiaan de Wet. The success of those measures was seen in the resistance offered by Boers until the end of the war.

Botha represented the Transvaal in the peace negotiations of 1902 and was a signatory to the Treaty of Vereeniging. After granting self-government to the Transvaal in 1907, Lord Selborne called upon Botha to form a government, and in the spring he took part in a conference of colonial premiers in London.

During the period of reconstruction, Botha went to Europe with de Wet and de la Rey to raise funds.  Botha took a prominent part in politics, advocating measures to maintain peace and to re-establish the prosperity of the Transvaal. His war record made him a prominent politician and he played an important role in its reconstruction, becoming Prime Minister in 1907. Together with Jan Smuts he formed the South African Party (SAP) in 1911. Widely viewed as too conciliatory to Britain, Botha faced revolts from within his own party and opposition from Hertzog's National Party. When South Africa obtained dominion status in 1910, Botha became its first Prime Minister.

After the start of the First World War, he sent troops to take over German South West Africa (Namibia) -- an unpopular move among Boers which provoked the Boer Revolt.

At the end of the War he led a British Empire military mission to Poland during the Polish-Soviet War. He argued that the terms of the Versailles Treaty were too harsh, but signed the treaty.

Botha was unwell for most of 1919. He was plagued by fatigue and ill-health arising from his robust waist-line and died of heart failure in 1919. He was buried in Heroes Acre, Pretoria. Sculptor Raffaello Romanelli created the equestrian statue of Botha that stands outside Parliament in Cape Town.

Winston Churchill wrote in Great Contemporaries: "The three most famous generals I have known in my life won no great battles over a foreign foe. Yet their names, which all begin with a 'B", are household words. They are General Booth, General Botha and General Baden-Powell..." RSALB

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:20
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.4

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