- History and Photographs of the Boer War

Christiaan Rudolf de Wet

The Uncatchable Boer Guerilla

General De-Wet

Christiaan Rudolf de Wet ((October 7, 1854 - February 3, 1922) was a Boer general who distinguished himself during the Second Boer War, afterwards becoming a politician and one of the founders of the National Party of South Africa.

De Wet was born in the Orange Free State on his father's farm. At 19, he married Cornelia Margaretha Kruger, and together they would have 16 children.

In 1880, when the British annexed the Transvaal and triggered the First Boer War, De Wet enlisted in the Boer army and fought at the battles of Laing's Nek and Majuba, where he gained a reputation for bravery.

After the peace treaty with Britain restored Transvaal's independence, De Wet was elected to the parliament of the Orange Free State, but he attended only one session, preferring instead to work on his farm. He led a mundane existence with his wife and large brood of children, until the Second Boer War erupted just 9 years later.

De Wet and three of his children were called up to fight and at first they joined the Boer forces as simple fighting men, without rank. However in September 1899, he was elected by his men to serve as Vice Commandant of his unit. He led his men at various engagements and participated in the siege of Ladysmith.

In December 1899, De Wet received battlefield promotion to General and was assigned to be Cronje's second in command as this general attempted to stem the British advance moving to relieve the siege of Ladysmith. De Wet distinguished himself by launching counter attacks against the British forces, one of which resulted in the capture of a large supply train. However this success was not enough and the force under Cronje's command was encircled and forced to surrender.

De Wet managed to escape the British encirclement and went on to lead a brilliant guerilla war against the British, launching daring surprise attacks against British outposts and escaping, often very narrowly, all attempts to capture him. He even led an audacious raid deep into the Cape Colony. Because of these exploits, De Wet gained legendary status and was the most feared and well known Boer leader.

De Wet remained in action against the British until the end of the war, never being captured, despite the British regarding him as their main enemy. His brother, Piet Daniel De Wet, however, another Boer general, was captured by the British in 1901 and turned traitor, fighting alongside Boer Quislings against his brother on behalf of the British.

De Wet took part in the peace negotiations which led to the end of the Boer war and after the war returned to politics and farming. He also wrote a book about the war. He was one of the founders of the National Party, which participated in elections in the newly formed Union of South Africa, which incorporated the Boer territories within a British run colony.

When World War 1 started, he unsuccessfully opposed South Africa's entry into the war. And when South Africa sent troops to invade German West Africa (now Namibia) he and other Boer's once again took up arms against the British. The short lived rebellion was crushed and De Wet was taken prisoner, for the first time in his life. He commented wryly that at least he had not been captured by a British soldier, but by a fellow Boer.

De Wet was sentenced to 6 years in jail but served only 1, and then was released on his word of honour that he would not take up arms again. Upon his release, De Wet sold his farm and retired. His health weakened and he was buried in 1922 at the foot of a memorial dedicated to the Boer civilians who died in the British concentration camps.