Andries Pretorius

Title Boer Leader
Other Names
Date of Birth 1798-00-00
Date of Death 1853-00-00
Boer leader
Life span 1798-1853
A biography of Andries Pretorius
In the 1840s and early 1850s Andries Pretorius was an important Voortrekker leader and politician and also the owner of the farm 'Grootplaas', now partly submerged by the Hartbeestpoort Dam. Born in Graaff-Reinet in 1798, he was a descendant of an early Dutch East India Company official. Pretorius had no formal education, although he was literate.  Leadership appears to have been a family trait in the nineteenth century, for Pretorius led a commando against the Xhosa on the Cape's eastern frontier during the war of 1834-1835 before heading one of the Voortrekker parties, and later his son, Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, became state president of both the South African Republic (the Transvaal) as well as the Orange Free State. 
Like many other Dutch settlers in the eastern Cape, Pretorius left the Cape and reconnoitered the interior with a view to settling beyond the colonial boundaries in order to get away from uncongenial aspects of British rule, including a policy of Anglicization, the abolition of slavery, the ongoing frontier wars and general conditions of insecurity. First, Pretorius joined Gert Maritz at Suikerbosrand in a punitive campaign against Mzilikazi ; he was in Natal for the battle of Blood River (Ncome) and also at Congella. After the death of Piet Retief he became leader of the Natal Voortrekkers and even tried living in Natal under British rule. However, dismayed by what he regarded as lenient British policy towards the Zulu, including equality before the law and the prohibition of forced labour, Pretorius  withdrew across the Vaal River and established himself in the Magaliesberg. There he  became deeply embroiled in the ferocious Voortrekker politics of the area with various factions advocating isolation, separate communities or a united, centralized republic. Hostility developed particularly between rival leader Hendrik Potgieter, Pretorius arguing for confronting Britain, Potgieter for trekking beyond British sovereignty. After independence from Britain after the Sand River Convention of 1852 (a victory for Pretorius) the tension escalated until eventually under considerable pressure from their followers – and to their relief – the two leaders reconciled at Rustenburg, a town founded in 1851. The political difficulties of the Voortrekker factions were compounded by the weak economy of the Transvaal, which was based on subsistence farming and varieties of forced labour.
Pretorius's settlement in the North West and the labour practices of his followers disturbed the African communities in the region. During this period, Boer farms became permanently established, indeed the area prospered as the 'garden of the Transvaal', according to traveller F.B. Fynney in the 1870s. Thus while Pretorius's efforts went a considerable way to liberating the Voortrekkers from British rule, the new settlers imposed their own harsh political and economic domination on the people of the region who became increasingly dispossessed and impoverished. Pretorius – after whom the city of Pretoria is named – died on his farm in 1853.

South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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