A large figure
On Kruger Day, 10 October 2023, it will already be 198 years since the birth of Paul Kruger. Interesting how strong the person of Kruger and the memories of Kruger still live and are talked about and written about.
When the Kruger Society gathers for Kruger celebrations on 10 October 2023 at the Kruger grave (Pretoria West Cemetery), it has already been 84 uninterrupted years that wreaths have been laid on his grave and gathered in the Kruger Church.
Zietsman(1) describes Paul Kruger as “the greatest figure in the history of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) – a man who stood at the center of every crisis and triumph of this stumbling and emerging Boer Republic”.
“Kruger became a legend among his people. He lived with his people and gave himself freely among them, without many duties – and this endeared him to his people.”(2)
Therefore, it is not strange that after the death and burial of Paul Kruger, a portrait print of Paul Kruger hung in many homes with the words:
“His Substance rests in Peace and His Works follow Him.”(3)
In short: Uncle Paul is remembered. Year by year. The policy of the Kruger Society over the 84 years is to emphasize – Kruger is not honored, but what he stood for. It is freedom and independence. The intention of this article is not to put emphasis on Kruger (a lot has already been written about that), but to focus a little on remembering the remembering.
The remembering of the remembering
When President Steyn laid a wreath at the grave of Paul Kruger there were telling words on it, quoted in Dutch, 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (4)
Kruger’s life was over, but his work lives on. He fought the battle, kept the faith. With the unveiling of the Kruger statue in 1925, Jan Smuts says that Kruger will live on as the greatest figure from the heroic period of the history of South Africa. What Smuts testified to is exactly what happens in practice.
Kruger is remembered. As one of the largest. Right after his death, it was not strange that Kruger’s people remembered who he was. Wreath-layings, talks, events were spontaneously organized in various places and Kruger as father, as father of the nation, as believer, as leader, as commandant and as president was evoked in the thoughts and narratives of his people.
Henri des Houx, conducted an interview with Kruger in his hotel room in April 1901. His impression was as follows(5):
“This Bible under the mutilated hand (referring to Kruger’s thumb that he lost in his youth when a gun exploded), this faith that spreads like a flame, explains the heroism of the Boers. Kruger is not refined, he is a consecrated figure, a religious and political leader, but also a statesman who commands and is obeyed.
I have never been so moved as I was in this simple hotel room, right before this exile. The pen cannot express the conviction of Kruger, the brevity and richness of his speech. In Paul Kruger, we believe, we recognize a remnant of those old heroes who were both mystical and practical, destined for miracles of willpower and patience.”
Therefore, it is not strange that Uncle Paul was remembered and is remembered. And it is beautiful if one thinks a little about remembering the remembering. At his funeral, of course, with the unveiling of the Kruger statue at the station, on the Church Square and through the years to this day.
One only has to scroll through the Memorial Program of 1954 which deals with the unveiling of the Kruger statue (8-11 October 1954) to see how Kruger was remembered 50 years after his death. During the unveiling of the Kruger statue, there was a historic procession, peasant sports, concerts, a tribute function, a joint church service, carillons and a wreath-laying which all testified to one thing – we remember.
The unveiling ceremony itself was impressive and a story on its own. The people of Pretoria cried out – we remember!
Remembering Paul Kruger does not go beyond the demands of time – each time he is remembered within the challenges of a particular time(6):
- In 1947, a procession through the streets of Pretoria follows and the wreath-laying is done in Stasieplein. The focus is on remembering and living, regardless of our time and the challenges of our time.
- In 1983, the message is very strong – it is 100 years after Kruger first became state president. We must draw from his spiritual strength, moral courage and steadfastness. In doing so, we will command respect and esteem from friend and foe alike. The foundation of his political views was the sovereignty of God. We must never forget this. So those who remember are called to remember – God rules!
- In 2005, at the wreath-laying at Kruger’s grave, the attendees were reminded that they must live in the words of Kruger according to “the eternal principles of God’s Word”.
- With the celebration of Kruger Day in 2008 it is asked – How far has the Lord sharpened all your convictions, your judgments, your knowledge, your way of life through your continuous and sustained study of the Bible? We are warned against the errors of the time.
- In 2009, the power of prayer is pointed out and Kruger’s prayers are highlighted as his faith relationship with God and how we must remember this.
- In 2013, those who remember are called to unity of strength and thought and are warned of the danger of fighting and division. Kruger as a son of the Great Trek and his courage is shown as a symbol of courage and progress.
- Thus, in the Kruger Day program of 2020, one reads about the Covid-19 virus that also paralyzes South Africa, one reads about political injustice, one reads about economic uncertainty. But you also read there about let us remember Kruger and build the power of his time and forward.
- Thus one reads in the Kruger Day program of 2022 about crime and corruption, but one also hears one thing – forward…
The above are some examples. This has been the case for the past 84 years with the wreath-layings and the past 119 years since Kruger’s death. He was particularly gifted and his people did not forget it.
And us today?
Why should we remember Uncle Paul? Was it not the Jew, Sammy Marks, donor of the Kruger statue who noted that he was the personification of the Afrikaner people.
He is the great bearer of the Afrikaner thought. He was called “farmer or all farmers“.(7) The reason why Kruger was and is remembered so well is simply because he was “loved and honored as the personification of everything for which they and their fathers suffered and fought. He was the cornerstone of independence, their dearest pledge for which he himself placed everything on the altar – the symbol of the Republican thought for which they went through fire…”(8)
Indeed the era of Kruger is over with his death. But as long as his descendants remember his deeds and build on the same faith and think ahead, we are not without a future. (9) That is precisely why we must still remember today. We remember Uncle Paul and we will continue to remember him, as Van Oordt already wrote in 1898:
Paul Kruger is like a rock(10) (Paul Kruger is like a rock).
(1) P. Zietsman, Paul Kruger’s last years. 1899-1904. 2006. Pretoria: Bienedell Publishers. p. 3.
(2) KRUGER, C. 1999. Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902: The what, where, when and who of the Boers’ struggle. Published by FAK, Lynnwooddrif. Cape Town: ABC Book Printers. p.59.
(3) Popular portrait printed and distributed in masses. Citation of portrait from private collection JG Noeth.
(4) P. Zietsman, Paul Kruger’s last years. 1899-1904. 2006. Pretoria: Bienedell Publishers. p. 116.
(5) P. Zietsman, Paul Kruger’s last years. 1899-1904. 2006. Pretoria: Bienedell Publishers. p. 84 – translated and reproduced by P. Zietsman.
(6) Kruger Society Day Programmes. Private collection. JG Noeth.
(7) BREYTENBACH, JH 1954. History of the Kruger Statue. Pretoria: Kruger Society. P. 5.
(8) BREYTENBACH, JH 1954. History of the Kruger statue. Pretoria: Kruger Society. P. 9.
(9) NOETH, JG. 2020. FOREWORD, Kruger Day programme. Kruger Society.
(10) VAN OORDT, JF, 1898. Paul Kruger and the Rise of the South African Republic. P. 798