Botha, Louis

Botha, Louis
born Sept. 27, 1862, near Greytown, Natal [South Africa]
died Aug. 27, 1919, Pretoria, Transvaal

First prime minister (1910–19) of the Union of South Africa.

Botha was elected to the South African Republic's parliament in 1897, where he sided with moderates against Pres. Paul Kruger's hostile policy toward Uitlanders (non-Boer, mostly English, settlers). In the South African War he commanded southern forces besieging Ladysmith and then tried unsuccessfully to defend the Transvaal. As prime minister he sought earnestly to appease the English-speaking population and was bitterly attacked by Afrikaner nationalists. In World War I he acceded to British requests to conquer German South West Africa (Namibia).

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▪ prime minister of South Africa
born Sept. 27, 1862, near Greytown, Natal [South Africa]
died Aug. 27, 1919, Pretoria, Transvaal

      soldier and statesman who was the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa and a staunch advocate of a policy of reconciliation between Boers and Britons.

      The son of a voortrekker (pioneer settler of the interior), he grew up in the Orange Free State, where he received his only formal education at a German mission school. In 1884 he helped to found the New Republic in the Vryheid district in Zululand (now northern KwaZulu/Natal). There he purchased a farm and married Annie Emmett, granddaughter of an Irish patriot. When the New Republic became part of the South African Republic (1888), Botha became politically active and held a number of posts before he was elected to the Volksraad (parliament) in 1897. There he sided with the moderates against President Paul Kruger's hostile policy toward the Uitlanders (non-Boer, mostly English, settlers).

      With the outbreak of the South African War in 1899, Botha rose rapidly to command the southern force besieging Ladysmith. Leading an ambush, he captured an armoured train; Winston Churchill was among the prisoners. When Piet Joubert, the commandant general of the Transvaal forces, died (March 1900), Botha was named to succeed him. Despite his talents as a general, he could not hold back the overwhelming numbers of British reinforcements. After the surrender of a large Boer army at Paardeberg and the fall of Pretoria, Botha organized a guerrilla campaign, but Britain eventually forced him to negotiate. He was one of the signatories at the Peace of Vereeniging (May 1902).

      The war over, Botha returned to politics as chairman of a new party, Het Volk (The People); and when the Transvaal was given self-government (1907), he was chosen prime minister. In 1910 a national convention selected him to serve as the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa, a post he held until his death.

      In 1911 Botha established the South African Party, designed to unite the anti-imperialist parties of the Transvaal, Orange Free State, and Cape Colony. The Unionist Party, backed largely by the English-speaking element, was the official party of opposition, but Botha's program of continued conciliation caused a split among his own followers. Concerned with the survival of their Afrikaner heritage, they formed the Orangia-Unie (Orangia Union), headed by J.B.M. Hertzog and others. Differences were exacerbated after the outbreak of World War I, when Botha acceded to the British request to conquer German South West Africa (now Namibia). After successfully putting down an Afrikaner rebellion led by Christiaan Rudolf de Wet and Christiaan Beyers, he went on to defeat the Germans in a well-organized and well-executed campaign (1915) that he personally led. Throughout the rest of the war, Botha managed to survive the bitter political attacks of the Afrikaner nationalists. In 1919 he participated in the Versailles Peace Conference, where he advocated leniency for the former enemies.

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Universalium. 2010.

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