The Kruger Millions – The Legend of South Africa’s Hidden Treasure

When former South African president Paul Kruger died in 1904, he left behind something else apart from his political legacy – he left rumours of a secret, extraordinary fortune. The Kruger Millions, as they’re known, are rumoured to be a stash of gold bars and coins removed from Pretoria just before the British captured it during the second Boer War. But, the train which was hauling the treasure mysteriously vanished in northeastern South Africa on its way to Mozambique. Since then, the legend of Kruger’s buried treasure has captured the imagination of treasure hunters, historians and anyone else who reads the tale.

South African coins with the face of Paul Kruger lost Kruger Millions

Who was Paul Kruger?

Paul Kruger (1825-1904) was one of the most important political figures in South Africa. For 17 years, Kruger served as the President of South Africa. He is notable for representing the Boer cause, leading forces against the British Empire in the second Boer War. For some, he was known as Oom Paul (Uncle Paul), representing a builder of the Afrikaner nation and identity, while to others he represented an unjust cause and discriminated against black Africans.

As the war dragged on and looked to be almost lost in 1900, the Boers were employing guerilla warfare and the British were using scorched earth tactics. Things were dire for the Boers. After the annexation of the South African Republic to the British Empire, Kruger was forced into exile in Europe to avoid capture.

He left the capital, Pretoria, on the 29th of May, and travelled to Machadodorp by train. He crossed over to Mozambique, and found a ship to Europe. Arriving by sea in Marseille, he attempted to rally allies to the Boer cause, spending most of his final years in Utrecht. His hat can still be seen in the Rijksmuseum today. He died in exile in Geneva, Switzerland, in a house overlooking Lake Geneva.

The Kruger Millions – Fact or Fiction?

The rumour of the Kruger millions is that sometime during the Second Boer War, Kruger (or someone acting on his behalf) hid away a great treasure so the British could never find it. Worth an rumoured US $500 million, the cache of gold and coins is thought to be somewhere in the Blue River area in the Mpumalanga province.

Drawing of an old train tunnel in Waterval Boven South Africa
Historic tunnel at Waterval Boven

How did the Kruger Millions Rumour Start?

The legend began in 1900, when the British occupied Pretoria. The British governer of the Cape Colony, Lord Alfred Milner, established that gold had been removed from the South African Mint and National Bank.

The story was picked by up South African writer Gustav Preller, who wrote an account of the disappearance of the gold (now in the Pretorian State Archives). He gave the date of the train leaving as the 4th of June, the day before the British arrived in Pretoria and took the city.

When word of fighting at Six Mile Spruit (one day from Pretoria) was received, the panicked government ordered mint employees to begin weighing, recording, and dispatching the gold to Pretoria train station. Under the sound of approaching cannon fire, the train steamed towards Machadodorp, where Kruger was residing at his temporary residence. In addition to the mint gold, hundreds more gold bars from surrounding mines was also loaded onto the train.

The Kruger Millions Vanishes

But, the train never made it to Mozambique. Somewhere in the dry grasslands, farmlands, and rocky savannah between Machadodorp and the border to Mozambique, the gold disappeared into thin air.

It may have gone to Europe with Kruger, or distributed to fund the war. The most common belief is that it was buried on a farm, somewhere between Sabie and Watervalboven. And that was it, the gold was never officially seen again. In September 1900, Paul Kruger left South Africa forever, and the knowledge of the gold may have died with those that buried it.

Drawing of Maputo Central Train Station museum Museo dos CFM historic train exhibit
Trains in Maputo Central Train Station Museo dos CFM

Searching for the Kruger millions

Over the years, many people have searched for the location of the Kruger Millions, without success. With very few clues to use, the millions could be buried anywhere in the Lowveld; along the railway line, on a farm, or near a point of interest. There have been some theories, however, about likely stashing spots.

Waterval Boven (Emgwenya)

Dutch for ‘above the waterfall’, this small town of around 6,000 residents is situated above the 75 metre Elands Falls, and established to help build the railway line, in particular the impressive railway tunnel. It is near to Kruger’s final residence in South Africa before his exile to Europe. Along with its sister village, Waterval Onder (under the waterfall), both these places may have seen the gold pass by on the train.

Drawing of Elands River waterfall South African waterfall sight
Elands River waterfall

The KrugerHof at Waterval Onder

When Kruger left Pretoria in anticipation for the advancing British army, he stayed briefly in Machadodorp, then moved to make his home at a small house at Waterval Onder. He stayed for around 2 months in this modest cottage of brick, wood and corrugated iron roofing, and a wide verandah surrounding. It isn’t much to look at, but it was Kruger’s last home before he left his country forever, and some think the Millions were buried nearby.

Drawing of Paul Kruger residence waterval goven Kruger Hof KrugerHof
The Kruger Hof

Sudwala Caves

Sudwala Caves are a natural cave formation in the Mpumalanga province, and the oldest cave formation in the world. With a strategic position near the Pretoria-Mozambique train line, these caves are full of caches and were used to store ammunition and artillery shells for the Boers. The caves run for thousands of metres, and are rumoured to be a potential hiding spot for the gold. Despite many searches being carried out, no gold has yet turned up.

Urban sketching South Africa drawing of Sudwala Caves interesting rock formation
The Monster rock formation in Sudwala Caves

The Town of Ermelo

In 2001, spurious rumours were published that a Zulu family from the town of Ermelo had found coins from the treasure decades ago, and had been selling them piecemeal. The town was almost completely destroyed in one of the last great battles at the end of the Second Boer War, the battle of Onverwacht. The reports published online have since been revealed as a hoax.

***

Nobody really knows where the Kruger Millions are hidden, or if the fabled lost treasure of Paul Kruger even existed at all. Maybe it was stolen long ago, distributed and spent, or maybe it is lying underground beneath a South African farmhouse. Maybe the English army found it after all. Whatever the case may be, the story of the Kruger Millions is a fascinating urban legend that is part of the Boer War-era mythos of Kruger, and the nation of South Africa.


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