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Paul Kruger

Paul KrugerAKA Stephanus Johannes Paul Kruger

Born: 10-Oct-1825
Birthplace: Colesberg, Cape Colony
Died: 14-Jul-1904
Location of death: Clarens, Switzerland
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Church Street Cemetery, Pretoria, South Africa

Gender: Male
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Head of State

Nationality: South Africa
Executive summary: President of Transvaal

Paul Kruger, President of the Transvaal Republic, was born in Colesberg, Cape Colony, on the 10th of October 1825. His father was Caspar Jan Hendrick Kruger, who was born in 1796. In his ancestry on both sides occur Huguenot names. The founder of the Kruger family appears to have been a German named Jacob Kruger, who in 1713 was sent with others by the Dutch East India Company to the Cape. At the age of ten Paul Kruger -- as he afterward came to be known -- accompanied his parents in the migration, known as the Great Trek, from the Cape Colony to the territories north of the Orange in the years 1835-40. From boyhood his life was one of adventure. Brought up on the borderland between civilization and barbarism, constantly trekking, fighting and hunting, his education was necessarily of the most primitive character. He learned to read and to write, and was taught the narrowest form of Dutch Presbyterianism. His literature was almost confined to the Bible, and the Old Testament was preferred to the New. It is related of Kruger, as indeed it has been said of Piet Retief and others of the early Boer leaders, that he believed himself the object of special Divine guidance. At about the age of twenty-five he is said to have disappeared into the veldt, where he remained alone for several days, under the influence of deep religious fervor. During this sojourn in the wilderness Kruger stated that he had been especially favored by God, who had communed with and inspired him. Throughout his life he professed this faith in God's will and guidance, and much of his influence over his followers is attributable to their belief in his sincerity and in his enjoyment of Divine favor. The Dutch Reformed Church in the Transvaal, pervaded by a spirit and faith not unlike those which distinguished the Covenanters, was divided in the early days into three sects. Of these the narrowest, most puritanical, and most bigoted was the Dopper sect, to which Kruger belonged. His Dopper following was always unswerving in its support, and at all critical times in the internal quarrels of the state rallied around him. The charge of hypocrisy, frequently made against Kruger -- if by this charge is meant the mere juggling with religion for purely political ends -- does not appear entirely just. The subordination of reason to a sense of superstitious fanaticism is the keynote of his character, and largely the explanation of his life. But at the same time there were incidents in Kruger's life which but ill conform to any Biblical standard he might choose to adopt or feel imposed upon him. Even van Oordt, his eloquent historian and apologist, is cognizant of this fact.

When the lad, who had already taken part in fights with the Matabele and the Zulus, was fourteen his family settled north of the Vaal and were among the foundersof the Transvaal state. At the age of seventeen Paul found himself an assistant field cornet, at twenty he was field cornet, and at twenty-seven held a command in an expedition against the Bechuana chief Sechele -- the expedition in which David Livingstone's mission house was destroyed.

In 1853 he took part in another expedition against Montsioa. When not fighting natives in those early days Kruger was engaged in distant hunting excursions which took him as far north as the Zambezi. In 1852 the Transvaal secured the recognition of its independence from Great Britain in the Sand River convention. For many years after this date the condition of the country was one bordering upon anarchy, and into the faction strife which was continually going on Kruger freely entered. In 1856-57 he joined M. W. Pretorius in his attempt to abolish the district governments in the Transvaal and to overthrow the Orange Free State government and compel a federation between the two countries. The raid into the Free State failed; the blackest incident in connection with it was the attempt of the Pretorius and Kruger party to induce the Basuto to harass the Free State forces behind, while they were attacking them in front.

From this time forward Kruger's life is so intimately bound up with the history of his country, and even in later years of South Africa, that a study of that history is essential to an understanding of it. In 1864, when the faction fighting ended and Pretorius was president, Kruger was elected commandant-general of the forces of the Transvaal. In 1870 a boundary dispute arose with the British government, which was settled by the Keate award (1871). The decision caused so much discontent in the Transvaal that it brought about the downfall of President Pretorius and his party; and Thomas François Burgers, an educated Dutch minister, resident in Cape Colony, was elected to succeed him. During the term of Burgers' presidency Kruger appeared to great disadvantage. Instead of loyally supporting the president in the difficult task of building up a stable state, he did everything in his power to undermine his authority, going so far as to urge the Boers to pay no taxes while Burgers was in office. The faction of which he was a prominent member was chiefly responsible for bringing about that impasse in the government of the country which drew such bitter protest from Burgers and terminated in the annexation by the British in April 1877. At this period of Transvaal history it is impossible to trace any true patriotism in the action of the majority of the inhabitants. The one idea of Kruger and his faction was to oust Burgers from office on any pretext, and, if possible, to put Kruger in his place. When the downfall of Burgers was assured and annexation offered itself as the alternative resulting from his downfall, it is true that Kruger opposed it. But matters had gone too far. Annexation became an accomplished fact, and Kruger accepted paid office under the British government. He continued, however, so openly to agitate for the retrocession of the country, being a member of two deputations which went to England endeavoring to get the annexation annulled, that in 1878 Sir Theophilus Shepstone, the British administrator, dismissed him from his service. In 1880 the Boer rebellion occurred, and Kruger was one of the famous triumvirate, of which General Piet Joubert and Pretorius were the other members, who, after the Battle of Majuba, negotiated the terms of peace on which the Pretoria convention of August 1881 was drafted. In 1883 he was elected president of the Transvaal, receiving 3431 votes as against 1171 recorded for Joubert.

In November 1883 Kruger again visited England, this time for the purpose of getting another convention. The visit was successful, the London convention, which for years was a subject of controversy, being granted by Lord Derby in 1884 on behalf of the British government. The government of the Transvaal being once more in the hands of the Boers, the country rapidly drifted towards that state of national bankruptcy from which it had only been saved by annexation in 1877. In 1886, the year in which the Rand mines were discovered, Kruger was by no means a popular man even among his own followers; as an administrator of internal affairs he had shown himself grossly incompetent, and it was only the specious success of his negotiations with the British government which had retained him any measure of support. In 1888 he was elected president for a second term of office. In 1889 Dr. Leyds, a young Hollander, was appointed state secretary, and the system of state monopolies around which so much corruption grew up was soon in full course of development. The principle of government monopoly in trade being thus established, President Kruger now turned his attention to the further securing of Boer political monopoly. The Uitlanders were increasing in numbers, as well as providing the state with a revenue. In 1890, 1891, 1892, and 1894 the franchise laws (which at the time of the convention were on a liberal basis) were so modified that all Uitlanders were practically excluded altogether. In 1893 Kruger had to face a third presidential election, and on this occasion the opposition he had raised among the burgers, largely by the favoritism he displayed to the Hollander party, was so strong that it was fully anticipated that his more liberal opponent, Joubert, would be elected. Before the election was decided Kruger took care to conciliate the volksraad members, as well as to see that at all the volksraad elections, which occurred shortly before the presidential election, his supporters were returned, or, if not returned, that his opponents were objected to on some trivial pretext, and by this means prevented from actually sitting in the volksraad until the presidential election was over. The Hollander and concessionnaire influence, which had become a strong power in the state, was all in favor of Kruger. In spite of these facts Kruger's position was insecure. "Joubert was, without any doubt whatever, elected by a very considerable majority." (Sir Percy Fitzpatrick). But the figures as announced gave Kruger a majority of about 700 votes. Joubert accused the government of tampering with the returns, and appealed to the volksraad. The appeal, however, was fruitless, and Kruger retained office. The action taken by Kruger at this election, and his previous actions in ousting Burgers and in absolutely excluding the Uitlanders from the franchise, all show that at any cost, in his opinion, the government must remain a close corporation, and that while he lived he must remain at the head of it.

From 1877 onward Kruger's external policy was consistently anti-British, and on every side -- in Bechuanaland, in Rhodesia, in Zululand -- he attempted to enlarge the frontiers of the Transvaal at the expense of Great Britain. In these disputes he usually gained something, and it was not until 1895 that he was definitely defeated in his endeavors to obtain a seaport. His internal policy was blind, reckless and unscrupulous, and inevitably led to disaster. It may be summed up in his own words when replying to a deputation of Uitlanders, who desired to obtain the legalization of the use of the English language in the Transvaal. "This", said Kruger, "is my country; these are my laws. Those who do not like to obey my laws can leave my country." This rejection of the advances of the Uitlanders by whose aid he could have built up a free and stable republic led to his downfall, though the failure of the Jameson Raid in the first days of 1896 gave him a signal opportunity to secure the safety of his country by the grant of real reforms. But the Raid taught him no lesson of this kind, and despite the intervention of the British government the Uitlanders' grievances were not remedied.

In 1898 Kruger was elected president of the Transvaal for the fourth and last time. In 1899 relations between the Transvaal and Great Britain had become so strained, by reason of the oppression of the foreign population, that a conference was arranged at Bloemfontein between Sir Alfred Milner, the high commissioner, and President Kruger. Kruger was true to his principles. At every juncture i1i his life his object had been to gain for himself and his own narrow policy everything that he could, while conceding nothing in return. It was for this reason that he invariably failed to come to any arrangement with Sir John Brand while the latter was president of the Free State. In 1889, the very year following President Brand's death, he was able to make a treaty with President Reitz, his successor, which bound each of the Boer republics to assist the other in case its independence was menaced, unless the quarrel could be shown to be an unjust one on the part of the state so menaced. In effect it bound the Free State to share all the hazardous risk of the reckless anti-British Transvaal policy, without the Free State itself receiving anything in return. Kruger thus achieved one of the objects of his life. With such a history of apparent success, it is not to be wondered at that the Transvaal president came to Bloemfontein to meet Sir Alfred Milner in no mood for concession. It is true that he made an ostensible offer on the franchise question, but that proposal was made dependent on so many conditions that it was a palpable sham. Every proposition which Sir Alfred Milner made was met by the objection that it threatened the independence of the Transvaal. This retort was Kruger's rallying cry whenever he found himself in the least degree pressed, either from within or without the state. To admit Uitlanders to the franchise, to no matter how moderate a degree, would destroy the independence of the state. In October 1899, after a long and fruitless correspondence with the British government, war with Great Britain was ushered in by an ultimatum from the Transvaal. Immediately after the ultimatum Natal and the Cape Colony were invaded by the Boers both of the Transvaai and the Free State. Yet one of the most memorable utterances made by Kruger at the Bloemfontein conference was couched in the following terms: "We follow out what God says, 'Accursed be he that removeth his neighbors landmark.' As long as your Excellency lives you will see that we shall never be the attacking party on another man's land." But this last war fared poorly for Transvaal. In 1900, Bloemfontein and Pretoria having been occupied by British troops, Kruger, too old to go on commando, with the consent of his executive proceeded to Europe, where he endeavored to induce the European powers to intervene on his behalf, without success.

From this time he ceased to have any political influence. He took up his residence at Utrecht, where he dictated a record of his career, published in 1902 under the title of The Memoirs of Paul Kruger. He died on the 14th of July 1904 at Clarens, near Vevey, on the shores of the Lake of Geneva, where he had gone for the sake of his health. He was buried at Pretoria on the following 16th of December, Dingaan's Day, the anniversary of the day in 1838 when the Boers crushed the Zulu king Dingaan -- a fight in which Kruger, then a lad of thirteen, had taken part. Kruger was thrice married, and had a large family. His second wife died in 1891. When he went to Europe he left his third wife in Lord Roberts's custody at Pretoria, but she gradually failed, and died there in July of 1901. It was in her grave that the body of her husband was laid. It is recorded that when a statue to President Kruger at Pretoria was erected, it was by Mrs. Krugers wish that the hat was left open at the top, in order that the rainwater might collect there for the birds to drink.

Father: Caspar Jan Hendrick Kruger
Mother: Elsie Francina Steyn
Wife: Maria du Plessis (m. 1842)
Wife: Gezina du Plessis (Maria's niece, d. 20-Jul-1901, seven daughters, nine sons)

    President of Transvaal 1883-1900 (technically 1902)


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