Francis William Reitz Tuisblad


President Francis William Reitz


Statue in Bloemfontein










F.W. Reitz - teks in Afrikaans

Francis William Reitz, Jr. (Swellendam, 5 October 1844 – Cape Town, 27 March 1934) was a South African lawyer, politician, statesman, publicist and poet, member of parliament of the Cape Colony, Chief Justice and fifth State President of the Orange Free State, State Secretary of the South African Republic at the time of the Second Boer War, and the first president of the Senate of the Union of South Africa.[2]

Reitz had an extremely varied political and judicial career that lasted for over forty-five years and spanned four separate political entities: the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State, the South African Republic, and the Union of South Africa. Trained as a lawyer in Cape Town and London, Reitz started off in law practice and diamond prospecting before being appointed Chief Justice of the Orange Free State.[3] In the Orange Free State Reitz played an important role in the modernisation of the legal system and the state's administrative organisation. at the same time he was also prominent in public life, getting involved in the Afrikaner language and culture movement, and cultural life in general.[4]

Reitz was a popular personality, both for his politics and his openness. When State President Brand suddenly died in 1888, Reitz won the presidential elections unopposed. After being re-elected in 1895, subsequently making a trip to Europe, Reitz fell seriously ill, and had to retire.[5] In 1898, now recovered, he was appointed State Secretary of the South African Republic, and became a leading Afrikaner political figure during the Second Boer War.[6] Reluctant to shift allegiance to the British, Reitz went into voluntary exile after the war ended.[6] Several years later he returned to South Africa and set up a law practice again, in Pretoria. In the late 1900s he became involved in politics once more, and upon the declaration of the Union of South Africa in 1910, Reitz was chosen the first president of the Senate.[7]

Reitz was an important figure in Afrikaner cultural life during most of his life, especially through his poems and other publications.[8]


[edit] Family

Francis William Reitz, Jr., was born was born in Swellendam[9] on 5 October 1844, as the son of Francis William Reitz, Sr.,[10] model farmer, agriculturalist and politician, and Cornelia Magdalena Deneys. He was the seventh child in a family of twelve. He grew up at Rhenosterfontein, the model farm (Afrikaans: plaas) of his father, situated on the borders of the Breederivier (Broad River) in the Cape Colony.[11]

Reitz married twice. His first marriage (Cape Town 24 June 1874) was to Blanka Thesen (Stavanger, Norway, 15 October 1854 – Bloemfontein, 5 October 1887). She was the sister of Charles Wilhelm Thesen, and the daughter of Arnt Leonard Thesen, tradesman, and Anne Cathrine Margarethe Brandt.[3][12] The Thesen family had settled in Knysna, Cape Colony, from Norway in 1869. The couple had seven sons and one daughter. After the death of his first wife Reitz remarried (Bloemfontein, 11 December 1889) with Cornelia Maria Theresia Mulder (Delft, Netherlands, 25 December 1863[13] – Cape Town 2 January 1935), daughter of Johannes Adrianus Mulder, typesetter, and Engelina Johanna van Hamme. At the time of her marriage Mulder was acting director of the Eunice Ladies' Institute at Bloemfontein. With his second wife he had six sons and one daughter.[4]

Deneys, his son, fought against the British in the Second Boer War, commanded the First Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers during World War I and served as a Member of the Union Parliament, Cabinet Minister, Deputy Prime Minister (1939–1943), and South African High Commissioner (1944) to the Court of St. James's.[14] His book, Commando: A Boer Journal Of The Boer War, has for many years been regarded as one of the best narratives of war and adventure in the English language.[15]

[edit] Education

Reitz received his earliest schooling at home, from a governess, and at a neighbouring farm. When he was nine years old, he went to the Rouwkoop Boarding School in Rondebosch (Cape Town). Here he stood out for his academic achievements and was subsequently elected Queen's Scholar by the Senate of the South African College in Cape Town. In the six years he spent at the College, after arriving in 1857, he received a broad education in arts and sciences, and developed himself into a well-balanced young man with obvious leadership qualities. He graduated from South African College in September 1863 with the equivalent of a modern bachelor's degree in arts and sciences.[11]

By then, Reitz had developed a keen interest in law, and he continued his studies at South African College, reading law with professor F.S. Watermeyer. The latter's death only months after Reitz started working with him, made Reitz decide to continue his studies in London, at the Inner Temple. It was a decision that needed deliberation, as his father was hoping for his son to return to the farm in due time, and the financial situation of the family was not strong. However. Reitz did go to London, and finished his studies successfully. He was called to the bar at Westminster on 11 June 1867. During his time in England Reitz became interested in politics, and regularly attended sessions of the House of Commons. Before returning to South Africa he made a tour of Europe. Back in South Africa, Reitz established himself as a barrister in Cape Town, where he was called to the bar on 23 January 1868.[11]

[edit] Early career

In the beginning Reitz found it hard to make a living, as competition among lawyers in Cape Town was quite severe at this time. Nevertheless he succeeded in making a name for himself, due to his sharp legal mind and his social intelligence. Being part of the western Circuit Court of the Cape Colony gave him a lot of experience in a very short time. At the same time, Reitz nurtured his political interests by writing lead articles for the Cape Argus newspaper, for which he also reported on the proceedings of the Cape Parliament and acted as deputy editor. In 1870 Reitz moved his legal practice to Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State. The discovery of diamonds on the banks of the Vaal River, Reitz thought, would lead to a growth of legal work and enable him to set up a thriving practice. This was not to be, however, and after a few months Reitz left Bloemfontein to set up as a diamond prospector in Griqualand West, where he bought a small claim near Pniel from the Berlin Missionary Society. This enterprise also proved unsuccessful, and again after only a few months Reitz returned to Cape Town. This time, his Cape Town law practice was successful, ironically because of the British annexation of the Orange Free State diamondfields (1871) and the economic prosperity this emanated for the Cape Colony.[3]

In 1873 Reitz was asked to represent the district of Beaufort West in the Cape Parliament. The day he took his seat, 30 May, his father, who was the representative for Swellendam, announced his retirement from the Assembly. As so many of Reitz's activities up to that point, his parliamentary career was short-lived. Only two months later, President Johannes Brand of the Orange Free State offered Reitz the position of chairman of the newly formed Appellate Court of the Orange Free State, despite the fact that Reitz was not fully qualified (inter alia too young). Reitz refused the offer for this reason, but when another candidate also refused, Brand insisted on the nomination of Reitz, and convinced the Volksraad to appoint him.[3]



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