William Philip Schreiner bigraphy, stories - Prime minister of the Cape Colony

William Philip Schreiner : biography

30 August 1857 - 28 June 1919

William Philip Schreiner (30 August 1857 – 28 June 1919) was a barrister, politician, statesman and Prime Minister of the Cape Colony during the Second Boer War.


Schreiner was born at Wittebergen Mission Station in the Eastern Cape near Herschel, Schreiner was the tenth child of missionaries Gottlob Schreiner and Rebecca Lyndall, and the younger brother of Olive Schreiner. Schreiner was educated at Bedford, the South African College in Cape Town, the University of the Cape of Good Hope, the University of London, and Downing College, Cambridge where he took a First in the London LL.B. examination and was senior jurist in the Cambridge Law Tripos.

He was admitted to the English bar in 1882, returned to Cape Town as an advocate of the Cape Supreme Court and established a thriving law practice.

He became a parliamentary draughtsman in 1885 and acted as legal adviser to the Governor and High Commissioner in 1887. His proximity to parliamentarians gave him an entrée to South African political life, expanding his interest in political affairs. He entered politics in 1893 as the Member of Parliament for Kimberley and became Attorney-General in the Rhodes cabinet of 1893 - a cabinet supported by Jan Hendrik "Onze Jan" Hofmeyr and the Afrikaner Bond until the Jameson Raid when Rhodes' imperial ambitions became clear, causing the resignation of Schreiner and the rest of the ministry in January 1896. He was elected member for Malmesbury in 1898 and later that year became Prime Minister in a cabinet that included John X. Merriman and Jacobus Wilhelmus Sauer.

As Prime Minister he favoured negotiation rather than hostilities, to the chagrin of Governor and High Commissioner Alfred Milner, who was actively fomenting war. His stance led to his forced resignation from the premiership and parliament in June 1900. He failed to win a seat in the 1904 election, but returned in 1908 as the Member for Queenstown, a radically changed politician. He now adopted a liberal Bantu policy which had started in 1899 with a visit to the Transkei and the African leader Tengo Jabavu. Schreiner's philosophy advocated integration and equal rights for all civilised men. His dedication to this ideal was proved by his resignation from the National Convention in order to represent Dinuzulu, due to stand trial before a special court set up by the Government of Natal, for his alleged treasonable participation in the rebellion of 1906.

Schreiner felt that the Union Government and parliament would not uphold the liberal Cape Bantu policy. He went to England to oppose the passage of the South Africa Act through the British Parliament. With the forming of Union, he became one of the first senators nominated to look after Black interests.

He was on holiday in England at the outbreak of World War I and was requested by Gen. Botha to fill the post of High Commissioner for South Africa in London. He died in office on 28 June 1919, the day the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Schreiner was that rare thing in politics - incorruptible with unblemished integrity and a loyalty to country that rose above personal ambition.

He was married in 1884 to Frances Hester Reitz, a sister of President F. W. Reitz. They had two sons and two daughters.

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