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