Letter from General Schalk Burger

Scope and Content

Letter from General Schalk Burger to 'Jan', written in the Hague during a tour of European capitals by Boer generals following the Treaty of Vereeniging, 1902.

Administrative / Biographical History

General Schalk Willem Burger (1852-1918) became a clerk in the office of the field-cornet at Lydenburg, Transvaal at the age of twenty-one, was elected field-cornet in 1881 and became a commandant in 1885 after the campaign against Nyabla. In 1886 he became a member of the Volksraad, representing Lydenburg, eventually leading the more progressive element, and later served on various commissions, including the commission of inquiry into the proposed Delagoa railway. In 1896 he became a member of the Executive Council and soon afterwards was sent to Bloemfontein to discuss closer co-operation between Transvaal and Orange Free State.

As a supporter of General Joubert, Burger was relatively sympathetic to the demands of the Uitlanders and in 1897 acted as Chairman of the Industrial Commission on mining in the republic which attacked President Kruger's industrial policy. He was promoted General in 1899. However, he was opposed to any military conflict between Britain and the Transvaal. Moreover, during the South African War, 1899-1902, he proved himself an adequate military leader at Ladysmith and Platrand, and after the Battle of Spionkop confined himself to the business of government.

In June 1900, with the departure of Kruger for Europe, Burger became acting President of the Transvaal. Though he continued hostilities while there was some hope of success, by 1901 he realised that continued resistance to the British would achieve nothing and by 1902 began sueing for peace. He was the first republican signatory of the peace treaty at Vereeniging, though the final negotiations were delegated to more dynamic figures such as J.C. Smuts and J.B.M. Hertzog. At the same time he strove to gain an attitude of acceptance of the peace among his fellow Afrikaaners. Later in 1902 he left for Europe where he joined other Afrikaaner generals and visited Kruger.

After the war, he attempted to further the development of Lydenburg and strenuously opposed both the continuing isolationism of the Afrikaaners and the introduction of Chinese labour. He was a co-founder and Vice-Chairman of the Het Volk Party and returned as a member of the Legislative Council in 1907. In the same year he served on the commission appointed by Prime Minister Botha to inquire into repatriation. A champion of union rather than federation for South Africa and a loyal supporter of Botha and the South African Party, he became a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee in 1911 and a senator in 1913, a post he retained until his death.

In 1876 he married Alida Claudina de Villiers, daughter of the Lydenburg pioneer Pieter de Villiers.

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Collection level description created by Paul Davidson, Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House.

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