Mauritz Naudé of the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History, explores some of the myths and legendary moments involving Paul Kruger and the Kruger House, now a museum forming part of the DITSONG: Museums of South Africa.
Even though museums are normally associated with a collection of movable objects such as art, household items, textiles, ceramics, glass and a variety of exclusive man-made items, the opening and reopening of a house museum and a historic building represents something special. What makes such a place special? Buildings and historic sites cannot be obscured from the public by storing it in a storage facility and it cannot be presented occasionally as part of a formal display. The enjoyment of historic sites and buildings are not incidental events and they are not occasionally exposed to the public eye. They are part of the urban fabric of a city or town. They form part of the historic man-made landscape.
To celebrate a historic site and historic building often signifies the rediscovery of something special: because the place is of cultural significance associated with an event – good or bad, a person of outstanding character or who has contributed to its neighbourhood, city or region and may have represented its community or cultural group in their cause.
The aura of the Kruger House revolves mostly around Paul Kruger the person. Irrespective of the many publications recording the life and times of Kruger, he is still associated with many unrecorded events, myths and legendary moments associated with situations exposing his character and intriguing personal beliefs. These vary from the adventurous (hunting and war stories) to the religious (dogmatic expressions) and from the very personal to events associated with him as statesman (opposing British imperialism). His residence has become a location with a strong sense-of-place, attracting visitors from all over the world.
The dwelling does not reflect the character of a ‘presidency’ but that of a ‘dorpshuis’. Many questions relating to this seeming dichotomy have been asked. We have become used to a perception that the leader of a country would live in a mansion or stately dwelling and the Kruger House does not reflect this perception. During the early part of the 1880s, while Kruger was overseas, plans were proposed for a new ‘presidency’. This was proposed by Alois Nellmapius, an immigrant from Hungary who had negotiated several business concessions with Kruger. He had architectural drawings drafted for the future dwelling for Kruger by an English architect, Tom Claridge. The proposed dwelling resembled the architectural style of Europe at the time – a double-storey Victorian villa with a variety of hipped roofs, an asymmetrical façade with small verandas wrapping around various sides of the building, several turrets along the roofline and elaborate quoining around the doors and windows. The proposal was not approved and the current dwelling is the result of what was decided by Kruger.