Singing Die Stem at Kruger's Swiss house
by John Scott

June 10, 2009

Now that they have taken Paul Kruger's street away from him in St Gallen, Switzerland, and renamed it after the Swiss playwright Friederich Duerrenmatt, I am wondering what's happened to his house on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, in Clarens.

When I visited it 25 years ago, it was virtually a shrine. That was certainly how the two Bothas, PW and Pik, treated it. It was the first place they drove to after landing in Geneva on their whirlwind tour of Europe, laying flowers besides the bust of the exile who had died in the little three-storey villa 80 years earlier, barely two months after moving in.

It was a museum full of Kruger memorabilia. Those of us in the media contingent watched as PW wrote in the visitors' book: "The past has come alive for us." Then he and the others, reluctant to leave such a pleasant spot, sat out on the lake embankment, enjoying the sun, and speculating on the depth of the water. An official confided it was vrek diep.

"When I retire I'd like to buy a little restaurant here," I recorded PW saying. As it turned out, he had to make do with the Wilderness.

A next-door neighbour came out and invited him into her house. Then, back in the garden, Botha wanted everyone's picture taken. "He is very fonny," the young French-speaking lady caretaker remarked to me. "We think so, too," I said.

Finally PW lined us all up and insisted we sing Die Stem, with Pik given the job of choir-master.

Afterwards PW declared that visiting Kruger House in Clarens had been a highlight of his trip.

He enjoyed an easy passage in Switzerland, compared to some of the other countries he visited. Even the handful of demonstrators in Berne and Zurich politely called him "Herr Botha", and when he left they inexplicably gave him the thumbs-up sign. Possibly it meant something else in Swiss.

His only big booboo was in response to a Swiss television journalist's question about forced removals. A couple of weeks earlier Piet Koornhof had angrily disputed a claim that 3.5 million people had been moved, claiming it was "only two million".

"We don't do it by force," Botha told the press conference. And after general exclamations of disbelief, he elaborated: "We try to coerce them ..."

"Convince, convince," Pik prompted him.

"We try to convince them it's in their own interests," said PW.

He got on better with Swiss businessmen than with the country's politicians and press. At a stag dinner his typed speech disappeared (it turned out that a waitress, motivated by the national mania for tidiness, had cleared it away), so he told a joke about a man who had no enemies because he had "outlived the bastards", adding: "I don't say we must outlive our opponents. I believe we must convince them."

Good word, convince. Which reminds me, I don't think anyone convinced Paul Kruger that the world wasn't flat.

Still, that's no reason to take away his street, let alone his house.

* This is John Scott's PS column, which appears in the Cape Times. Email him at