President Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, the famous South African statesman was born on 10 October 1825 on his grandfather’s farm, Bulhoek in the Cradock district of Britain’s Cape Colony and grew up on the farm, Vaalbank. Kruger was not a well-educated man. He only had three months of formal education. As a farm kid he however knew a lot about the veldt and the wild, and his parents instructed him well in the strict beliefs of their Dutch Calvinism.
With the commencement of the Great Trek in 1836, when he was 10, his father joined the trek party of Hendrik Potgieter, and the family moved to an area now known as Rustenburg in what later became known as the Transvaal. Two of the main influences during his youth were the struggles against hostile black tribes and the opposition of the British to Transvaal’s independence.
At age sixteen Kruger was allowed to choose a farm for himself, and he selected a farm at the base of the Magaliesberg Mountains and settled there in 1841. The following year he married Maria du Plessis and the couple moved to the Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga province). Kruger and his family later returned to Rustenburg, and his wife and infant son died soon afterwards presumably as a result of Malaria. He then married Gezina du Plessis, his first wife’s cousin. She died in 1901 after bearing him seven daughters and nine sons – many of who died in infancy.
Kruger elected as President
From 1864 he was Commandant-General of the South African Republic (Transvaal) until it was annexed by Britain in 1877. He soon became a leader and negotiator in the struggle to regain independence. After it regained its independence (1881) he was elected President of the Transvaal Republic (1883), and re-elected in 1888, 1893, and 1898 – a position he held until 1902, when the British, as a result of the Anglo Boer War, again took the Transvaal. In 1883 he went to England to revise the Pretoria Convention of 1881, the agreement between the English and the Boers that ended the First Boer War. Kruger was constantly engaged in an expansionist policy in Bechuanaland (Botswana), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia), and Zululand (part of the present KwaZulu-Natal province) in an attempt to expand the Transvaal frontiers.
His arch-enemy on the Transvaal issue was Cecil John Rhodes, Britain’s prime minister in the Cape Colony. Rhodes strived to pursue British interests in all of Southern Africa. Kruger’s problems were compounded by the discovery of gold in 1886 in the Witwatersrand area of the Transvaal. Many uitlanders (outlanders), predominantly of British background, streamed to the gold strike and threatened the separate national identity of the Afrikaners. This conflict led to the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902. The event that triggered the war was the successful defeat of the Jameson Raid organised by Cecil Rhodes.
Kruger’s refusal to allow equal rights to non-Boer immigrants (Outlanders) was another cause of the Second Anglo Boer War. When Bloemfontein and Pretoria were occupied in 1900, Kruger retired to Utrecht in The Netherlands, where his efforts to stir up European support for the Boers was unsuccessful.
Kruger (also called the “old lion of Transvaal”) is best remembered as a devoted defender of the Transvaal, or the South African Republic (Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek), at the time when British imperialism in Southern Africa was at its height. He is recognized as one of the builders of the Afrikaner nation in South Africa. Although his ideal of independence from Britain did not materialize during his lifetime, it was eventually realized in May 1961 when South Africa became an independent republic.
During the Second Anglo Boer War, when Kruger was 74, he remained in Pretoria as a result of poor health until 1900. He left the capital only a few days before Lord Roberts occupied it in May. He then went in exile to Europe. He died in Clarens, Switzerland, on 14 July 1904. He was buried on 16 December 1904 in the Church Street cemetery in Pretoria.
Another legacy of Kruger is the Kruger National Park, which was first proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve by the then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. He originally proposed the need to protect the animals of the Lowveld (Mpumalanga province) in 1884, but his innovative vision took a further twelve years to be realised when the area between the Sabie and the Crocodile Rivers was set aside, and was put under the protection of Nature Conservation to ensure the survival of the remaining animals.
Today the Kruger National Park is the primary destination in South Africa for international tourists. Every year more than half a million visitors are registered.