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Kruger House: The legends live on

Paul Kruger house heritage month day September 2020 South African history
Kruger’s residence when it was used as a maternity hospital (Source: Küsel postcard collection, Pretoria)

Two significant features in front of the dwelling are two lions. They seem odd as the lion as a mythical and symbolic animal conjures associations and perceptions of colonialism, the British Empire and several other associations. In most cultures, the lion is regarded as the king of beasts and to symbolise strength, courage, pride fortitude and majesty. In Islamic and Egyptian myth, the lion is believed to protect households or families against evil, and lion sculptures were used to keep watch at doorways or steps. According to Christian legend, the lion sleeps with its eyes open, promoting the perception of vigilance and spiritual watchfulness. The significance of the lion made it a favourite emblem of imperial regimes as it also symbolised victory. It was frequently used as a decorative animal on objects during Quen Victoria’s reign but also installed in front of buildings associated with the period of Queen Victoria’s Empire. For this reason, the presence of the two lions in front of Kruger’s residence remains dubious. The two lion statues in front of Kruger house were donated to Kruger by Barney Barnato in 1896. The statues were not the choice of Kruger and the real motivation, meaning and appropriateness of the lions in front of the Kruger residence remain a mystery.
     One of the lesser-known facts about the Kruger residence is that it also served as a hospital. Kruger lived in the house until 29 May 1900 when he had to leave Pretoria before the approaching British forces. His wife continued to live in the house and died there on 20 July 1901. After Kruger’s death, it was used by the British police. In 1904, after the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902), relatives of the Kruger family moved into the dwelling. It was occupied by F.C. Eloff, a son-in-law of the president. It remained a dwelling until 1908 when it became the first premises of the maternity home of the ‘Bond van Afrikaanse Moeders’ or ‘Bond of Afrikaans-speaking Mothers’ (Later the ‘Moedersbond’).

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