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Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger
1825 - 1904

Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger was a South African statesman. Maintaining the independence of the Transvaal for a quarter of a century, he gradually became the champion of the entire Afrikaner nation and the symbol of their dogged exclusiveness.


Paul Kruger was born on Oct. 10, 1825, in the Cradock district of the Cape Colony, the son of Casper and Elsie Steyn Kruger. In 1836 the Krugers joined a group of Voortrekkers led by Hendrik Potgieter. Soon afterward Paul took part in the battle of Vechtkop, where a handful of Voortrekkers repelled an attack by Matabele. February 1838 found him in Natal, where he was eyewitness of the massacre of the laagers by Zulu warriors. His family hereafter took up farming in the Rustenburg district of Transvaal.

Life as a Pioneer

The only real schooling Kruger had was a 3-month course with a wandering master. Otherwise, the Bible was his only textbook. At the age of 16 he was entitled to choose two farms, one for grazing and the other for crops. His first marriage, to Maria du Plessis, ended after 4 years, when his wife died in childbirth. He married again, to Gezina du Plessis.

Kruger went through the perils of the Great Trek as a boy and fought in three battles before he was 13. With his natural boyish fancies thus slain early by circumstance, he grew up firm-willed and stern of mind, keen in brain and fearless in person. Physically he was cast in Herculean mold, with muscles steeled by his hard frontier life. His human qualities, like those of his body, were elemental. His association with pioneers made him gruff and rather crude. That narrow passion for his people, which later shaped so much history, was acquired when, as a boy, he suffered with the Voortrekkers. He feared God with the implicitness of the simpleminded peasant. As president, he delivered speeches interspersed with quotations from the Bible. He was no orator, as was to be expected from his slender education, but his facts were always arranged and expressed clearly, logically, and forcibly.

War Adventures

Appointed field cornet at 17, Kruger distinguished himself many times by bravery in battle. In 1852 he fought against Secheli, a Bechuana captain. The next year, in expedition against the chiefs Mapela and Mankopane, he brought off two more exploits. One night he crept through the enemy sentries and into a cave occupied by a large number of natives. He harangued them in their own tongue, urging that surrender was better than death by famine. He finally led several hundred women and children out of the cave.

In a skirmish some days later, Kruger effected the rescue immortalized by Van Wouw in one of the panels of the Kruger Statue. Despite heavy fire from the natives, he retrieved the body of commandant Piet Potgieter and carried it back to the Boers.

Statesman and Constitutionalist

From 1857 Kruger's personal destiny was linked very closely with that of the Transvaal government. First he served as adviser to President M.W. Pretorius. In 1863 Kruger was elected commandant general. During disputes which gradually resulted in civil war, he did not hesitate to use force to uphold the constitution.

After the return of political stability, Kruger served on various government commissions in connection with border and diamond-field disputes. Although he remained loyal to the government, he gradually withdrew from active politics after the election of the liberal-minded president T.F. Burgers. Kruger's personal following increased as a result of Burgers's failures, and he became the favorite for the presidential election in 1877. Owing to the annexation by Britain, the election did not take place.

As negotiator, Kruger could now match his wits against British diplomacy. Twice (1877, 1878) he led deputations to London in protest against the annexation, but in vain. He then resorted to passive resistance and advised his people to take up arms only when all his attempts at peaceful solution had failed. As member of a triumvirate, he led Transvaal during the War of Independence, which ended with the Boer victory at Majuba (1881). Britain then conditionally restored the independence of Transvaal.

President of the Last Boer Republic

In 1883 Kruger was elected president with a large majority. He made it his special task to restore complete independence to the republic. Eventually, at the Convention of London (1884), Kruger succeeded in restoring the absolute independence of his "Zuid-Afrikaansche" republic.

Kruger found his country in financial troubles and resorted to the much-criticized concession policy to improve the fiscal position. Then, in 1886, the world's largest gold-bearing reef was discovered in Transvaal. Within a few years Kruger presided over the most prosperous state in Africa.

Kruger regarded the maintenance of the independence of Transvaal and the protection of the rights of the original inhabitants as a task to which God had called him. In all his negotiations he laid down as a firm condition the independence of Transvaal. This brought him in direct opposition to Cecil Rhodes, who devoted his abilities and fortune to expanding British influence from the Cape to Cairo.

Kruger versus Rhodes

Rhodes effected the geographical encirclement of the Boer republics by isolating Transvaal from the sea and the German territories. Kruger, however, succeeded in building his own railway line through Mozambique to Delagoa Bay. This thwarted Rhodes's attempts to incorporate Transvaal economically with the British territories. Rhodes now began interfering with the internal affairs of Transvaal with the intention of ending its independence. Aliens (Uitlanders), mostly British subjects, flocked to the goldfields and soon outnumbered the republicans. Because they were hostile to the Transvaal government, Kruger decided to give them full citizenship only after 14 years' residence. In order to placate them, a Second Volksraad was instituted, to which the aliens could be elected.

The Uitlanders remained dissatisfied, and Rhodes plotted with them to overthrow Kruger's government. The Jameson raid (1895) failed, however, and Kruger emerged stronger than before. Then Joseph Chamberlain, British Minister for Colonies, and Alfred Milner, British High Commissioner in South Africa, decided to champion the cause of the Uitlanders by demanding full franchise. Kruger in the end was willing to make concessions on condition that Britain would no longer interfere in the domestic affairs of Transvaal and that all disputes would be submitted to neutral arbitration. Britain rejected these conditions as well as a republican ultimatum to withdraw British troops from its borders. War followed.

During the initial stages of the war Kruger stayed in Pretoria, offering advice and encouragement to the Boer forces by telegram. When British troops advanced on Pretoria, he retreated to the eastern Transvaal. In 1900 the Executive granted him leave to proceed to Europe to promote the cause of the republic. Although he found sympathy, especially in France and Holland, no foreign power would interfere on behalf of the Boers. As an exile, Kruger heard of the surrender of the Boer forces in 1902. He died on July 14, 1904, in Clarens, Switzerland.


He was called the "old lion of Transvaal". This can be attributed to his general appearance - a mane of grey hair and an impressive beard framing an impassive and stubborn looking face. He was also the president of the Republic of South Africa for many years.

He was born Stephanus Johannes Paul Kruger on 10 October 1825 - for many years until South Africa's democratic elections in 1994, the 10th of October was celebrated as a public holiday in honour of Paul Kruger. He was born on Bulhoek, his family's farm situated near the town of Craddock in the Eastern Province of South Africa. Paul Kruger's forefathers were Prussians who arrived in South Africa in 1713.

When Paul, as he was called, was ten years old, his family moved to the northern part of the Cape Province, across the Orange River. It was here that the Kruger family met with one of the leaders of the Great Trek (the Boers who moved away from the Cape in a huge convoy), Hendrik Potgieter. The Krugers joined up with Potgieter and followed them to Natal (now called Kwazulu-Natal) and eventually moved to the province of Transvaal (the area of Transvaal now comprises four provinces). They settled down in an area in the south east of Transvaal and established the town of Potchefstroom - today known as an university town.

Paul Kruger taught himself to read and write and at the tender age of sixteen, he owned his first farm, which he called Waterkloof, situated in the northern area of Transvaal near the town of Rustenburg. He married at the age of seventeen, but his wife Maria and their child died of Malaria in 1846. Paul Kruger was only twenty-one years old and remarried the year after. His second wife was Gezina du Plessis, his first wife's cousin. They had sixteen children. One of the suburbs in Pretoria, Gezina, was named after his second wife.

His family's involvement with the Great Trek leaders ensured that he would eventually participate in the world of politics. He was a natural for it and in 1854 was the commandant of Rustenburg. Six years later he was named the commandant-general of the Transvaal army. He was not even thirty years old.

Britain annexed Transvaal in 1877 and Paul Kruger, believing that peaceful talks would rectify the situation, went to London to talk to the British government. He pleaded with them that the annexation was morally wrong. His pleas fell on deaf ears and the disillusioned Kruger returned to South Africa.

In 1880, he joined forces with Piet Joubert and M. Pretorius and the three pledged to fight for independence. The Boers won the war an in 1883, Paul Kruger became the State President. The gold rush to the Transvaal started soon after and the state was forced to provide services such as railways, streets and proper accommodation to the burgeoning cities and towns. He was re-elected in 1888, but was not very popular - he tended to award commercial concessions only to the people that he personally liked and this caused the people to grumble.

With the election of 1893, Paul Kruger won by a narrow margin and many people believed that if he continued with his economic policies, he would lead Transvaal to ruin. He was a wily politician and managed to win over the people and in 1898, was re-elected for a fourth time with a large majority.

The Anglo-Boer War broke out and Paul Kruger guided the Boer forces and became an icon of inspiration to the battling Boers. In 1900, as the British forces advanced on Pretoria, Paul Kruger escaped and left his country, to settle down in Holland for the duration of the Anglo-Boer War. He never returned to his country, but died in Clarens, Switzerland on 14 July 1904.

His body was shipped back to Cape Town and was taken to the Transvaal via train. His body was buried on 16 December 1904 in Pretoria, in Heroes Acre.


Youth: Paul Kruger (Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger) was born on October 10 1825 at his grandfather's farm, Bulhoek in the Steynsburg district and grew up on the farm, Vaalbank. He wasn't a well educated man and only had three months formal education. Growing up in a rugged farm area he learnt a lot about the wild. When the Great Trek started in 1836, Kruger's father, Casper Kruger, joined the trek party of Hendrik Potgieter and the family moved to what later became known as Transvaal, to try an establish and independent state.

Settling in the Transvaal: Paul Kruger's father decided to settle in an area now known as Rustenburg. At age 16, Paul Kruger was entitled to choose a farm for himself. He chose a farm at the base of the Magaliesberg mountains and settled there in 1841. In 1842 he married Maria du Plessis and the couple moved to the Eastern Transvaal. Paul Kruger and his small family later returned to Rustenburg and Kruger's wife and infant son died soon after. It is presumed the double death is likely to have been caused by Malaria. Paul Kruger then married Gezina du Plessis, who bore seven daughters and nine sons and died in 1901. Many of Kruger's children died in infancy.

Kruger emerges as leader: Later Paul Kruger's strong leadership qualities started emerging. He eventually became Commandant-General of the then South African Republic , later known as Transvaal. His leadership skills became more prominent when he was appointed member of a commission of the Volksraad the Transvaal Republican Parliament who were tasked with drawing up a constitution. His leadership ability started to attract attention, and it is said that he later played a prominent role in ending the quarrel between the Transvaal leader, Stephanus Schoeman, and M W Pretorius.

Vice-President 1874: Paul Kruger resigned as Commandant-General, in 1873 and took no political office for a time. He retired to his farm, Boekenhoutfontein. His stint away from politics only lasted a year the next year he was elected to the Executive Council. Shortly after that he became Vice-President. Kruger's life remained heavily centred around politics from 1877 till 1882. In this time Paul Kruger lead a resistance movement and became leader of a deputation. The first Anglo Boer war was 1880 and the British forces were defeated in a battle at Majuba in 1881. At this time Paul Kruger was instrumental in negotiations with the British, which later led to the restoration of Transvaal as an independent state under British rule.

In 1882, the 57 year old Paul Kruger was elected president of Transvaal. He left for England in 1883 to revise the Pretoria Convention of 1881, an agreement which was reached between the Boers and the British that ended the first Anglo Boer War. Paul Kruger acquired many allies in Europe during this time. In Germany, he attended an imperial banquet at which he was presented to the Emperor, Wilhelm I, and spoke at length with the renowned Bismarck.

The Discovery of gold: The discovery of gold in the Transvaal, changed the political climate of the Witwatersrand. Many goldseekers from around the globe flocked to Africa. The Transvaal Republic regarded gold seekers as 'uitlanders' (foreigners).

Jameson raid: Kruger's leadership was put to the test at the end of 1895, when the Jameson Raid took place. The Jameson Raid led by Doctor Starr Jameson. Jameson later became premier of the Cape of Good Hope Colony, or the Cape Colony as it is now called. In December, 1896 a group of This unsuccessful raid, started the breakdown of good relations between the British and the Boers and this breakdown of relations ultimately led to the second Anglo Boer War. Kruger was elected as president four times, his last re-election was in 1898.

The Anglo-Boer war: The second Anglo-Boer War, also known as the South African war, started on October 11, 1899. Paul Kruger attended the last session of the Volksraad and on 29 May, and fled from Pretoria as Lord Roberts advanced on the town. He remained underground for weeks and eventually, he took refuge with his European allies, while the war continued. In October 1900 he left from Lourenco Marques and Dutch Queen Wilhelmina sent the battleship, De Gelderland, to transport him. Gezina Kruger was very ill when the party left and could not accompany him. She died on 20 July 1901.

Kruger's party landed in Marseilles. He travelled through Europe to Holland where he stayed for remainder of the war. His last respite was at Oranjelust in Utrecht and it was here that he received the news of the Treaty of Vereeniging had been signed. Paul Kruger moved to Clarens in Switzerland where he stayed for the last six months of his life and died on 14 July 1904. He was buried on 16 December 1904, in the Church Street cemetery, Pretoria.











This web page was last updated on: 12 December, 2008