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Frank (Francis) William Reitz

Francis William Reitz (1844 - 1934) was a South African politician and for a time President of the Orange Free State, and was State Secretary in the Transvaal in the period immediately before the South African War (1899 - 1902). He was also a writer, poet and competent translator. Reitz was a brother of Fan Schreiner nee Reitz. Frank Reitz studied law in Britain and 1868 he was admitted to the Cape Bar. While practicing as a lawyer he supplemented his income writing editorials for the Cape Argus. Reitz then lived in the Orange Free State (OFS) for a time, and in 1873 he represented Beaufort West in the Cape Legislative Assembly but this was short lived; in the same year President Brand of the OFS offered him the position of president of the newly established Free State Court of Appeal. In this position, for a decade from 1877, Reitz accompanied the OFS circuit court on its travels through rural areas and got to know the region and its people well. When the Afrikaner Bond was established on 11 May 1881 in the wake of 1880-81 Anglo-Boer War, Reitz became its President later that same year. In 1888 Reitz stood for election following the death of President Brand; he won and was sworn in in 1889. Reitz was an ardent Republican and continuously tried to foster closer ties with the Transvaal and supported movements for the development and protection of emergent Afrikaans culture, for example through his support of the First Language Movement.

In March 1895 Reitz’s health began to fail and he resigned as OFS President at the end of that year. In 1897 he settled in Pretoria and was sworn in as a Transvaal judge in 1898, and was eventually elected ‘Staatsekretaris’ (state secretary) of the Transvaal. It was Reitz, together with Jan Smuts, who was responsible for the ultimatum which eventuated in the declaration of war between the Boer Republics and Britain in October 1899. Reitz left Pretoria with Kruger as British forces advanced in May 1900. He was later one of the signatories of the 1902 peace treaty of Vereeniging. After the war Reitz and his family spent time in the Netherlands and the USA before returning to South Africa in 1907 and settling in Cape Town, where in 1910 he became the first president of the Senate of the Union of South Africa. Reitz’s reputation as a steadfast republican increasingly alienated him from the reconciliatory Smuts and Botha government and he was not re-elected to presidency of the Senate in 1920, although he remained a senator until 1929. Reitz spent his retirement years involved in the writing and translation work, which he engaged in intermittently throughout his working life.

Schreiner’s letters make several references to Frank Reitz, both in his private family capacity as Fan Schreiner’s brother, and also in his public capacity as a political figure. In 1899 she commented to Will Schreiner that she wished Frank Reitz rather than Jan Smuts had attended the Bloemfontein conference in May that year. Frank Reitz also translated into Dutch Schreiner’s 1899 An English South African’s View of the Situation and arranged for it to be printed and circulated in the Transvaal. From Schreiner’s comments in her letters to others it is clear that she and Reitz were in direct correspondence at this time themselves, although none of Schreiner’s letters to Reitz have been traced.

For further information see:
J.C. Moll (1972) ‘Reitz, Francis William’ in (eds) W.J. de Kock & D.W. Kruger Dictionary of South African Biography¬† Vol II Pretoria: National Council for Social Research, pp. 577 - 585
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