Die dood van Genraal De la Rey
When World War I broke out in Europe, South Africa was united in title only. The bitter memories of the Anglo-Boer War were now freshened by the Union Government's opinion that Britain's declaration of war automatically involved South Africa as a member of the British Empire. Certain leaders of the old republics had never reconciled themselves to the Imperial connexion however; among these was General J. H. de la Rey, one of the great republican heroes of the late war. In 1913 De la Rey, a serving Senator, had already begun to express publicly his desire for a resurrection of the republics.
The outbreak of war in Europe was greeted by De la Rey as a heaven-sent opportunity for South Africa to divorce herself from the Empire. He was encouraged in this belief by the visions of the 'prophet' Nicolaas van Rensburg. Despite warnings from influential friends, De la Rey called a meeting of 800 burghers at Treurfontein in mid-August 1914. The result was anticlimactic, and De la Rey did not call for an armed protest against Botha's intention to collaborate with Britain. Yet by early September De la Rey was consorting with other dissident leaders and plans for a restoration of the republics continued. On 12 September he spoke in the Senate debate on the Union's projected action against the German colony of South West Africa. This speech was another anti-climax as the general maintained his equivocal public stance. Immediately after finishing his speech, De la Rey headed north, to meet Beyers in Pretoria on 15 September. Beyers and De la Rey left Pretoria by motor car that evening to talk with another republican sympathiser. Genl Kemp.
On the same day the police along the Witwatersrand had mounted a large operation to capture the Foster gang, a group of three criminals wanted for the murder of three policemen. Road-blocks were set up to intercept the bandits' car. Already one tragedy had occurred when a certain Dr Grace had ignored a summons to halt at a road-block and had been shot dead. Unaware of the Foster-hunt, and evidently believing that the police were under orders to arrest them, Beyers and De la Rey failed to halt at three police blocks. At a fourth block, at Langlaagte, they again ignored a call to halt and shots were fired at the car's tyres. A richochet struck De la Rey and he died shortly afterwards, leaving unanswered the question of what role he had intended to play in the recent rebellion.
Keywords: Anglo-Boer War; General J. H. de la Rey; Treurfontein; Foster-hunt; Botha's intention to collaborate with Britain; resurrection of the republics; Beyers