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INDIVIDUAL PORTRAITS

JOUBERT, PETRUS JACOBUS


JOUBERT, PETRUS JACOBUS (1834-1900), commandant general of the South African Republic from 1880 to 1900, was born at Cango, in the district of Oudtshoorn, Cape Colony, on the 20th of January 1834, a descendant of a French Huguenot who fled to South Africa soon after the revocation of the Edict 01 Nantes by Louis XIV. Left an orphan at an early age, Joubert migrated to the Transvaal, where he settled in the Wakkerstroom district near Laings Nek and the northeast angle of Natal. There he not only farmed with great success, but turned his attention to the study of the law. The esteem in which his shrewdness in both farming and legal affairs was held led to his election to the Volksraad as member for Wakkerstroom early in the sixties, Marthneus Pretorius being then in his second term of office as president. In 1870 Joubert was again elected, and the use to which he put his slender stock of legal knowledge secured him the appointment of attorney general of the republic, while in 1875 he acted as president during the absence of T. F. Burgers in Europe. During the first British annexation of the Transvaal, Joubert earned for himself the reputation of a consistent irreconcilable by refusing to hold office under the government, as Paul Kruger and other prominent Boers were doing. Instead of accepting the lucrative post offered him, he took a leading part in creating and directing the agitation which led to the war of 1880-1881, eventually becoming, as commandant-general of the Boer forces, a member of the triumvirate that administered the provisional Boer government set up in December 1880 at Heidelberg. He was in command of the Boer forces at Laings Nek, Ingogo, and Majuba Hill, subsequently conducting the earlier peace negotiations that led to the conclusion of the Pretoria Convention. In 1883 he was a candidate for the presidency of the Transvaal, but received only 1171 votes as against 3431 cast for Kruger. In 1893 he again opposed Kruger in the contest for the presidency, standing as the representative of the comparatively progressive section of the Boers, who wished in some measure to redress the grievances of the Uitlander population that had grown up on the Rand. The poll (though there is good reason for believing that the voting lists had been manipulated by Kruger’s agents) was declared to have resulted in 79i1 votes being cast for Kruger and 7246 for Joubert. After a protest Joubert acquiesced in Kruger’s continued presidency. He stood again in 1898, but the Jameson raid had occurred meantime and the voting was 12,858 for Kruger and 2001 for Joubert. Joubert’s position had then become much weakened by accusations of treachery and of sympathy with the Uitlander agitation. He took little part in the negotiations that culminated in the ultimatum sent to Great Britain by Kruger in 1899, and though he immediately assumed nominal command of the operations on the outbreak of hostilities, he gave up to others the chief share in the direction of the war, through his inability or neglect to impose upon them his own will. His cautious nature, which had in early life gained him the sobriquet of Slim Piet, joined to a lack of determination and assertiveness that characterized his whole career, led him to act mainly on the defensive; and the strategically offensive movements of the Boer forces, such as Elandslaagte and Willow Grange, appear to have been neither planned nor executed by him. As the war went on, physical weakness led to Joubert’s virtual retirement, and, though two days earlier he was still reported as being in supreme command, he died at Pretoria from peritonitis on the 28th of March 1900. Sir George White, the defender of Ladysmith, summed up Joubert’s character when he called him a soldier and a gentleman, and a brave and honorable opponent.

 
     

25 April 2004

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