‘Taken at the Flood’

As was recommended to me recently, the biography of Harry Struben, Taken at the Flood, is well worth reading[i]. Struben, along with his brother, Fred, is credited with first confirming the gold deposits of the Witwatersrand, and was a central figure in the Transvaal for many years thereafter, rubbing shoulders with all the big players. Son of the Dutch-born Johan Marinus Struben, who was an official in the South African Republic Government and a close friend of President Marthinus W. Pretorius, it would be hard for even the most lunatic True Believer to dismiss Struben as a ‘Jingo’[ii]… which makes his statements about the sheer rottenness of Kruger’s republic in the 1890s even more impactful:

‘In 1895 he realized that the crest of the first gold boom had passed, and he foresaw political repercussions. “I am afraid if the market falls much and people get hard up, extreme measures taken by the Transvaal Government will lead to trouble. There is a feeling of hostility shown by the Boer party against the Uitlanders which is most unfortunate”… he felt deep antagonism to the politicians, some of them foreigners from Holland and Germany, who were controlling the Transvaal. He wrote an angry letter when he was heavily taxed as an Uitlander, the Government having seized his two best farms in New Scotland as surety for the £700 0s. 0d. tax “to pay for their last little war… those grasping, thieving rascals are alienating the friendship of everyone. I would not live amongst them again on any account – one gets to despise them so thoroughly. They are going to the bad fast and hope by robbery and oppression to retain their power”.[iii]

This then, is an interesting contemporary description of Kruger’s corrupt kleptocracy in action – a corrupt kleptocracy still passionately defended by both those on the lunatic fringe of extremist Afrikanerdom[iv], and the self-loathing hand-wringers of the British far-Left… what strange bed-fellows indeed.

And even more inconveniently for the increasingly-frazzled Defenders of the Myth, Struben was in no doubt where the blame for the Boer War lay:

‘He maintained that the Boer War would never have occurred, had not Paul Kruger been influenced by evil men. In 1899, while President Kruger was in Bloemfontein negotiating with Sir Alfred Milner to maintain peace,[v] Harry [Struben] met General Hendrik Schoeman in Pretoria, and Schoeman boasted that he would soon be seeing him again in Cape Town, as the Cape Boers and officials would help the Transvaalers to capture the city’.[vi]

So much for the old chestnut of the poor, innocent Boers ‘never gazing across their borders’ and ‘only ever wishing to take up defensive positions, just across the border’. One wonders what sort of mental incapacity is required to still believe this National Party rubbish.

Struben was of the firm belief that Kruger had cheated Joubert of victory in the Presidential elections in the 1890s. In the closely / unfairly fought election of 1893, for example, Kruger had pipped Joubert by 7,911 votes to 7,246.[vii] – the tiny size of the electorate will leave one in no doubt as to just how restricted the franchise was. It was widely reported, and generally believed, that the scheming Kruger had manipulated the ballot, and many of Joubert’s supporters were incensed by what they saw as having been cheated of their rightful victory. Indeed, one who went on to serve in the volksraad even offered £1,000 to any man who would shoot Kruger.[viii] It is a crying shame that no one took him up on the offer.

Others ‘…implored Joubert to refuse to submit, and to fight it out if necessary; but the General, who was as weak as water, decided that, however great the sacrifice, he could not consent to divide the country on the issue. A stronger man would have hazarded a coup d’état, but Slim Piet was no match for his old rival, whose motto is to get home by any means, fair or foul’.[ix]

Struben’s biography reveals that General Hendrik Schoeman – the same braggart who claimed he would soon be strutting victoriously about in Cape Town – openly boasted to have destroyed hundreds of votes cast for Joubert, ‘because he knew that Joubert would never declare war against Great Britain’.[x]

Furthermore, Struben was of the belief that, had Joubert become President, there would have been an end to the tension between the republic and the British Empire, everything would have been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, ‘war would have been averted, and the republics would have continued to exist for generations. Shortly before the Boer War, Harry was walking with Piet Joubert up to his house in Pretoria when they passed a group of German officers in uniform. The General pointed and exclaimed, “Those are the fellows who are going to get us into trouble”. Later, in his house, Joubert told Harry, “If war comes, I am a Dutch Afrikander and Commandant General, and I shall do my best for my land and my people, but, if anything happens to me, you can always say that this war was none of my seeking; it will be a success for us at first, but will end in the loss of our independence. I hoped to avert it, but I am over-ruled. I must obey”.’[xi]  

But none of this will cut any ice with the True Believers, of course. The account of a well-placed witness to events will simply be dismissed – because it doesn’t fit with their much-cherished, and ever-so-comforting, Apartheid-regime version of events.


[i] Written by his grandson, the biography draws heavily on family letters and diaries, as well as interviews

[ii] ie. someone who says anything which challenges the AWB-approved version of events.

[iii] Struben, Taken at the Flood, p.251

[iv] And even by a few blinkered old fossils who still lurk about the History Departments of certain South African universities, and desperately try to keep the myths spluttering on a bit longer

[v] In reality, Kruger had no interest in peace, or in granting a fair franchise to the oppressed Uitlanders – he was merely playing for time

[vi] Struben, p.251

[vii] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, p.522

[viii] Scoble & Abercrombie, The Rise and Fall of Krugerism, p.111

[ix] Ibid, p.112

[x] Struben, p.251

[xi] Ibid, p.252

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