Botha (27 September 1862 – 27 August 1919) was an Afrikaner
and first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa—the
forerunner of the modern South African state. He was one of 13 children
born to Louis Botha (26 March 1827 - 5 July 1883) and Salomina Adriana
van Rooyen (31 March 1829 - 9 January 1886).
He became a
member of the parliament of Transvaal in 1897, representing the
district of Vryheid. Two years later Botha fought in the Second
Boer War, initially under Lucas Meyer in Northern Natal, and later
as a general commanding and fighting with impressive capability
at Colenso and Spioen kop. On the death of P. J. Joubert, he was
made commander-in-chief of the Transvaal Boers, where he demonstrated
his abilities again at Belfast-Dalmanutha. Claims exist that Botha
captured Winston Churchill at the armoured train ambush in Natal
on 15 November 1899; but this may be a fabrication depending on
one's perspective. Certainly Churchill did not mention it in his
book on The Boer War London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900), though
later he made such a claim. It is, however, mentioned in Arthur
Conan Doyle's book, The Great Boer War, published in 1902. After
the fall of Pretoria, he led a concentrated guerrilla campaign against
the British together with Koos de la Rey and Christiaan de Wet.
The success of his measures was seen in the steady resistance offered
by the Boers to the very close of the three years' war.
He was the chief
representative of his countrymen in the peace negotiations of 1902,
and was signatory to the Treaty of Vereeniging. After the grant
of self-government to the Transvaal in 1907, General Botha was called
upon by Lord Selborne to form a government, and in the spring of
the same year he took part in the conference of colonial premiers
held in London. During his visit to England on this occasion General
Botha declared the whole-hearted adhesion of the Transvaal to the
British Empire, and his intention to work for the welfare of the
country regardless of racial differences (in this era referring
to Boers/Afrikaners as a separate race to British South Africans).
He later worked
towards peace with the British, representing the Boers at the peace
negotiations in 1902. In the period of reconstruction under British
rule, Botha went to Europe with de Wet and de la Rey to raise funds
to enable the Boers to resume their former avocations. Botha, who
was still looked upon as the leader of the Boer people, took a prominent
part in politics, advocating always measures which he considered
as tending to the maintenance of peace and good order and the re-establishment
of prosperity in the Transvaal. His war record made him prominent
in the politics of Transvaal and he was a major player in the postwar
reconstruction of that country, becoming Prime Minister of Transvaal
on 4 March 1907. In 1911, together with another Boer war hero, Jan
Smuts, he formed the South African Party, or SAP. Widely viewed
as too conciliatory with Britain, Botha faced revolts from within
his own party and opposition from James Barry Munnik Hertzog's National
Party. When South Africa obtained dominion status in 1910, Botha
became the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa.
After the First
World War started, he sent troops to take German South West Africa,
a move unpopular among Boers, which provoked the Boer Revolt.
At the end of
the War he briefly led a British Empire military mission to the
Second Polish Republic during the Polish-Soviet War. He argued that
the terms of the Versailles Treaty were too harsh on the Central
Powers, but signed the treaty. Botha was unwell for most of 1919.
He was plagued by fatigue and ill-health that arose from his robust
waist-line. That he was fat is certain as related in the marvellous
account of Lady Mildred Buxton asking General Van Deventer if he
was bigger than Botha, to which Van Deventer replied: “I am
longer, he is thicker.” (In Afrikaans thicker literally means
Louis Botha died of heart failure on 27 August 1919 in the early
hours of the morning. His wife Annie was at home and was very soon
joined by Engelenburg who had acted as a private secretary to Botha.
While other speculative theories of his death may exist they remain
speculative and entirely unsubstantiated. Botha was laid to rest
in Heroes Acre, Pretoria.
Botha, Winston Churchill wrote in Great Contemporaries, "The
three most famous generals I have known in my life won no great
battles over a foreign foe. Yet their names, which all begin with
a 'B", are household words. They are General Booth, General
Botha and General Baden-Powell..."
- Louis Botha]