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Paul Stephanus Johannes Kruger

Stephanus Johannes Paulus (Paul) Kruger (1825 - 1904) was the last president of the independent Transvaal or South African Republic. Kruger’s family was part of the so-called Great Trek, travelling with Potgieter’s party across the Vaal River in 1838 where they established Potchefstroom. Kruger was raised in the Calvinist tradition with its emphasis on the Old Testament and he later joined Dirk Postma’s ultra-conservative Gereformeerde Kerk or Doppers. Kruger was a farmer but was also marked out as a leader from a young age: he was a field-cornet by the age of 17 and became a key supporter of and eventually advisor to the first president of the Transvaal, M.W. Pretorius, when it achieved formal recognition as a republic in 1857. By 1864 Kruger was commandant-general of the Transvaal. In 1873, because of disagreements with President Burgers he requested honorable discharge from the position of commandant-general, but by 1877 he had returned to public life in a political (rather than military) capacity and was appointed vice-president by the Transvaal Volksraad (‘people’s council’, its governmental body).

Kruger played an important role in restoring the independence of the Transvaal after an attempted annexation by Britain in 1880 and the ensuing so-called First Anglo-Boer War of 1880-81. Kruger went on to win the Transvaal elections of 1882 and 1883 he was sworn in as President. He became widely known as ‘Oom Paul’ (Uncle Paul). After the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886, Kruger found himself President of a radically transformed Transvaal. The area, previously poor and with an economy almost entirely centered on agriculture, was suddenly inundated with prospectors and with the city of Johannesburg developing into a major urban centre almost overnight. Increasingly, the Uitlanders (foreigners living and working in the Transvaal, mainly in connection with the gold mining industry) began to agitate Kruger’s government for the extension of political rights including the franchise, then only afforded to Transvaal burgers (citizens). The tensions this produced in part led to the way to the South African War, with Rhodes, Milner and Chamberlain able to use the demands of the Uitlanders as a pretext for fomenting war with the Transvaal.

For Schreiner, the Boer Republics and the Transvaal in particular represented an important bulwark against the advancement of capitalist imperialism in South Africa. Kruger was in many ways the symbol of an agrarian, religious, un-modern way of life that was preventing the expansion of ruthless modern capitalism and British imperial expansionism. While Schreiner saw the victory of Kruger’s forces in crushing the Jameson Raid at Doornkop in 1896 as a pivotal moment in arresting the relentless growth of capitalist imperialism in southern Africa, she was by no means blinkered to the retrograde racism that was also a strong feature of the Boer Republics. As she commented to Merriman in 1897 around accusations that she had taken payment from Kruger’s government for publishing Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, “Just fancy Oom Paul & ^his^ fellow Transvaalers approving of a book which inculcates that it may be your  duty to love a nigger!!!”, with her use of the word parroting Kruger’s mode of speaking.

War eventually broke out in October 1899, and in May 1900 Kruger left Pretoria as British forces under Lord Roberts advanced on the Transvaal capital. He went to the Netherlands via Mozambique, and spent some time in Mentone in France, and then in Clarens in Switzerland. After his death on 14 July 1904 at Clarens on the Lake of Geneva, Kruger’s body was embalmed and sent to The Hague, where it was temporarily stored in a vault before being transported back to South Africa. In South Africa, his body lay in state in Pretoria, and a large crowd attended the funeral ceremony held on 16 December 1904. Schreiner herself was present at Kruger’s funeral, and she provided a number of descriptions of it in her letters, including to Alice Greene on 24 December 1904:

“The scene in the Susanna Saal where the body lay in state was something more beautiful & impressive than I can des-cribe. I have seen many impressive scenes in Europe, but nothing like that. The solemn rows of burgers in their old fighting clothes about the door were very touching to me but the scene in the dim hall lighted by electric lights, & the the hundreds & hundreds of wreathes covering floor & walls to the far end where the rough old hero lay in his coffin was moving beyond pl words, in the room behind were huge books in which all who came wrote their names.”

For further information see:
T. R. H. Davenport, ‘Kruger, Stephanus Johannes Paulus (1825-1904)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/41290J
ohn Fisher (1975) Paul Kruger: His Life and Times London: Secker & Warburg
Majorie Juta (1937) The Pace of the Ox: The Life of Paul Kruger Cape Town: Human & Rousseau
D.W. Kruger (1968) ‘Kruger, Stephanus Johannus Paulus’ in (ed) W.J. de Kock Dictionary of South African Biography  Vol I Pretoria: National Council for Social Research, pp. 444 - 455
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