General Schalk Willem Burger was born on the 6 September 1852. At the age of 21 he worked as a clerk at Lydenburg in the office of the field coronet. During this period he married Alida Claudina de Villiers. Burger was elected as field cornet in 1881, and became part of the campaign against Nyabela, the Ndebele king who was later imprisoned. Burger was appointed as a commandant in 1885. The following year in 1886 he became a member of the Volksraad (People’s Council) in Transvaal representing Lydenburg. During his term he served on various commissions including the one that led an inquiry into the proposed railway line lining Delagoa Bay.
While serving on the Volksraad, he was appointed Chairman in 1895 and went on to become a member of its Executive Council in 1896. Burger was tasked with discussing closer cooperation between the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. He was closely associated with Piet Joubert who contested for presidency against Paul Kruger and later served acting president of the Transvaal. Burger and Joubert were sympathetic to the demands of the Uitlanders. In 1897 Burger acted as chairman of the Industrial Commission on mining in the ZAR which criticized the industrial policy of President Paul Kruger. The following year, in 1898 Burger ran for presidency of against Paul Kruger but lost.
Despite his opposition to the conflict between Britain and the Transvaal, he was promoted to rank of Commandant General on 27 March 1900 after the War broke out. In the South African War he was heavily criticized for lack military prowess during the siege of Ladysmith. Under his command, his forces fled Spionkop. Subsequently, Burger desisted from military engagements and focused on being in government.
After the death of Piet Joubert in March 1900, Burger was appointed as acting President of the Transvaal when Paul Kruger visited Europe in June that year. He continued as acting president directing his attention to the war, but soon began making attempts to reach a peace settlement with the British. When the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed, Burger was one of the signatories. In 1902 he went to Europe where joined Paul Kruger and other Afrikaner generals.
Burger became a founder member and Vice-Chairman of the Het Volk Party in 1905. He won a seat uncontested and was retained a member of the Legislative Council. He was a delegate for the Transvaal to the National Convention. Later he became a supporter of Louis Botha and a member of the South African Party (SAP) serving as chair for the party’s Transvaal branch. A year after the formation of the Union of South African he served as a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee, and was elected in 1913 to the Senate. Also in 1913, he was appointed as a Commissioner in the Natives Land Commission headed by William Beaumont.
Burger continued to serve as a senator until his death on 5 December 1918.
• Collection Level Description: Letter from General Schalk Burger, from the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth & African Studies, [online], Available at www.bodley.ox.ac.uk[Accessed 05 June 2013]
Donate and Make African History Matter
South African History Online is a non profit organisation. We depend on public support to build our website into the most comprehensive educational resource and encyclopaedia on African history.
Your support will help us to build and maintain partnerships with educational institutions in order to strengthen teaching, research and free access to our content.