Paul “Oom” (Uncle) Kruger was president of the Transvaal (South African Republic) from 1883 until 1900, when he fled to Europe following the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. He was considered by many to be the face of the Boer resistance against the British, and played a crucial role in negotiations. He is remembered as a Voortrekker, statesman, farmer, soldier and one of the founding fathers of the Afrikaner nation.
Kruger was born Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger on October 10, 1825, on Bulhoek farm near Cradock in the Eastern Cape. He had little in the way of a formal education, but learnt a lot about the bush and became skilled at horse riding and hunting. In 1836, Kruger’s family decided to join the Great Trek party of Hendrik Potgieter, and they settled in what is now Rustenburg. According to custom, on his 16th birthday, Kruger was allowed to choose a farm for himself. He settled on a farm in the foothills of the Magaliesberg, named Waterkloof, and lived there for a year before marrying Maria du Plessis and relocating to the Eastern Transvaal. Soon after the move, his wife and infant son died from what is presumed to have been malaria. In 1847, Kruger married Gezina du Plessis, his deceased wife’s cousin. They had seven daughters and nine sons. Kruger was a devout member of the Dutch Reformed Church and deeply religious.
He was an impressive leader, both in government and the military. He rose in the ranks to become commandant-general of the South African Republic, before being made a member of the Volksraad (the Republican parliament at the time). The Volksraad was responsible for drawing up a constitution, and Kruger took part in this important task. In 1873, Kruger resigned from his post as commandant-general and retired to his farm. His time in retirement was short-lived however, as in 1874, he took his place on the Executive Council and was elected vice-president of the Transvaal. When it was annexed by Britain in 1877, Kruger dedicated himself to the resistance movement opposing this, and visited Britain as leader of a deputation. The following year, he was part of a second deputation and spent time in Paris.
The year 1880 saw the start of the First Boer War. After the Boers were victorious at Majuba, Kruger became involved in negotiations with the British and managed to restore independence to the Transvaal. By this stage he had won a lot of support as a political figure. It seemed only natural that in 1880, at the age of 55, Kruger was elected President of the Transvaal, land he had fought so hard to secure. He was affectionately known as the ‘old lion of Transvaal’, a tribute to the way in which he so fiercely protected his country. In 1881, Kruger set about revising the Pretoria Convention, detailing the post-war agreement between the Boers and the British. He then travelled to Europe, further negotiating with the British, gathering allies and attending imperial banquets alongside the likes of Emperor Wilhelm I and the German-Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck.
In 1898, Kruger was elected president for the fourth time in a row, a year before the outbreak of the Second Boer War, also known as the Anglo-Boer War. In October of 1900, Kruger fled South Africa to Mozambique before boarding the Dutch warship Gelderland to Marseille. Kruger moved to Paris, and later travelled to Germany. He made several more moves, back and forth between The Netherlands and France, before settling in Clarens, Switzerland where he passed away on July 14, 1904. His body was brought back to South Africa and buried in the Heroes’ Acre of the Church Street Cemetery in Pretoria. His former home in Pretoria is now the Kruger House Museum, and a statue of Kruger resides in Pretoria’s Church Square.