President Francois BurgersThomas Francois Burgers was born 15 April 1834 the youngest child of Barend Jacobus Burgers (1775-1845) and Elisabeth Magdalena Theron (1792-1867) on the farm Langfontein in the Graaff-Reinet district of the Cape Province.

In 1853 Burgers left for Europe where he studied theology at Utrecht in Holland and in 1858 he was admitted to the ministry. In the same year he married a Scots woman, Mary Bryson (1836-1929) and they had ten children.

In 1859 Burgers became Hanover’s first parson.

Burgers was a fiercely individualistic man. Charmingly eloquent and an outstanding orator with a pleasing personality. He had been influenced by Professor C W Opzoomer in Holland and embraced his rationalist, liberalistic ideas.

Rev. Burgers became involved in a stormy controversy with the Dutch Reformed Synod over his alleged liberalism and disbelief in the literal truth of the Bible. He was also critical of traditional culture and laid great emphasis on pure knowledge. In 1862, his unorthodox doctrine brought on him an accusation of heresy, and in 1864 he was found guilty by the synod and suspended. The Supreme Court overturned the decision, and in 1865, he was readmitted to the ministry.

Despite all this, the burghers (citizens) of the old Transvaal Republic urged Rev. Burgers to stand for the presidency of their country. In 1871 he was elected President by a considerable majority of 2,964 to 388.

The Transvaalers believed that in Burgers they had found a learned president who would be in a position to solve the country's many problems and could exercise a dominating influence in the Transvaal Volksraad (parliament). Indeed he set high ideals for the republic and brought about vigorous reforms in the administration, the judiciary and in education. He considered a railway link with the non-British port of Delagoa Bay (Maputo) as essential for the economic survival of the country.

During a stay in Europe during 1875 and1876, when he was attempting to raise money for a railroad loan and to publicize the Transvaal abroad, his opponents at home gained strength.

Unfortunately for Burgers his means did not match his ideals, so many of his projects ended in failure. He also did not spare himself in his efforts to strengthen the Transvaal against growing British imperialism, with the result that his health failed rapidly. When the Transvaal was annexed by the British in April 1877, Burgers was physically and financially a broken man.

After a tumultuous time in the Transvaal, Burgers, returned to Hanover in the Karoo in 1877 where he farmed with ostriches on De Dammen outside Hanover and shortly thereafter moved to Schanskraal.

He died in 1881 at the young age of 47 and was buried at Richmond. Later, he was moved to Zoetvlei and on November 26, 1885, was reinterred in Pretoria's old cemetery.

In 2001, 120 years later, the original Schanskraal homestead where Burgers spent his final years was restored as a guest lodge and renamed Burgersrust Lodge in his honour by the present owner Roger Beach.

C J Wels - 2011

 

thomas burgers (1834-1881) - historical background

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