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Johannes Wilhemus Sauer

Johannes Sauer (1850 - 1913) was a Cape politician and Union cabinet minister and husband of Schreiner’s close friend Mary Sauer. He trained as an attorney and earned a reputation as a gifted speaker in court. In 1874 he was elected member of the Cape Legislative Assembly for Aliwal North, thus beginning a political career of 40 years. In 1881 he bought the farm Uitkyk near Stellenbosch where he lived for the rest of his life. He was a supporter of Merriman, and the two of them, along with James Rose-Innes came be regarded as the three main Cape liberal politicians. According to Dickson, Sauer’s views “conformed to ‘Cape liberal’ ideas. He supported a Bantu franchise, which he regarded as the best means of educating and safeguarding the Bantu from oppression.” (Dickson 1972: 619). In the 1880s Sauer became friends with Rhodes and in 1890 he entered the first Rhodes ministry, but he later broke from Rhodes in the wake of the Jameson Raid. Regarding the South African War (1899 - 1902), Sauer did not hide his view that the war was ‘indefensible’, nor his sympathy for the Republics. In the post-Union period he became Minister of Justice and Native Affairs, and in this capacity he was responsible in 1913 for the passage of the notorious 1913 Natives Land Act. Sauer died shortly after the passing of the Act, with Schreiner commenting in a letter to Merriman that his lasting legacy would be this retrograde legislation.

In 1884 Sauer married Mary Cloete, daughter of Henry Cloete of Groot Constantia, and for a lengthy period a very close friend of Olive Schreiner’s. They had two daughters and a son. His younger daughter, Magda Sauer, became the first practising woman architect in the Union of South Africa and his son Paul Oliver Sauer, followed in his footsteps by becoming a politician and cabinet minister, although of Nationalist views.

For more information see:
P.G. Dickson (1972) ‘Sauer, Jacobus Wilhelmus’ in (eds) W.J. de Kock & D.W. Kruger Dictionary of South African Biography¬† Vol II Pretoria: National Council for Social Research, pp. 618 - 623
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