Jan Christiaan Smuts
Posted Oct 31, 2008
Last Updated Nov 3, 2008
(This piece is mostly borrowed from someone else. I simply provide a context, and in brackets, an occasional clarification or condensation.)
We've been exposed to a lot of American politics lately. This is political, too, but of a different time and place. Exotic. A place and a people most of us know little about. But enough like us to resonate.
It does not present the pros and cons of 2008's candidates or positions. And it does not advise, or scold, or warn. It simply describes. It is a case study of an interesting and admirable human being whose flaws were large, but not as large as his virtues — and it is food for thought.
◊While in the Detroit (merchant) Marine Hospital, in 1948, I read a book titled Against These Three, by Stuart Cloete, a book on the history of South Africa, straddling the 1900 turn of the century. The "Three" were Oom Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal, the principal Boer republic; Cecil Rhodes, the most influential Briton in South Africa, who knew precisely what he wanted (all of Africa); and the Matabele chief, Lobengula.
A secondary figure, Jan Christiaan Smuts, made a particular impression on me. In his twenties he became President Kruger's chief of staff, advisor, and sometime envoy to European governments. (In Kruger's office, Smuts was regarded as an odd duck, inspiring snickers, though Kruger recognized his extraordinary intelligence.)
During the final stage of the 2nd Boer War, Smuts became a renowned guerrilla commander, and afterwards one of the two negotiators (with Louis Botha) of the peace treaty that gave their side — the losing side, the Boers — much of what they'd fought for.
I did not forget Smuts, and in later reading occasionally encountered mention of him, but I knew very litttle about him as a person. I became aware that he'd written a book about his cosmology, but I'd never actually seen it. About 1986 or so I ran across it, republished by Greenwood Press, in a Barnes & Noble catalog. So I sent off for it, and waded laboriously through it. It even played a small supporting role in my 1988 novel The General's President. But I still had little sense of Smuts as a person.
About a dozen years ago, a friend gave me a history of the main Boer War, the second of two. It was a detailed scholarly work with many many photographs. Including photographs of Jan Christiaan Smuts as a guerrilla commander. One was a sort of portrait, standing by his horse, holding the bridal and looking uncomfortable. The other was a sort of group portrait, with a seated Smuts in the front center of what appear to be his officers, some in uniform, some not, mostly appearing quite casual (though not shaggy and unkempt, in frontier farmer clothes, like most boer commandos). Smuts was in uniform, belted, awkward, stiff — looking a bit foppish — and again uncomfortable.
That was Smuts? I thought. Smuts the famous guerrilla leader? He seemed entirely lacking in charisma. Almost like a poodle in the midst of hounds.
At the time, I had no explanation for it. Now I do. A few months ago I encountered and read a biography of Smuts (the only one I've read). It is a critical and intriguing study of a man with an aloof personality that was often abrasive and overbearing. Interesting title, interesting subtitle: GREY STEEL: A Study In Arrogance, by H.C. Armstrong, 1939. Armstrong writes tersely but beautifully, and the entire book can be read on the internet at no cost; just ask Google for "Grey Steel."
I'm attaching some excerpts here, about Smuts years after the Boer War; and not long after he'd commanded British Commonwealth forces against German colonial forces in sub-Saharan Africa in World War I. After the war, he not only contributed to the peace treaty; he was a major contributor to the constitution of the League of Nations. In the process he became lionized in England, Europe, and America.
At least in that environment, he was no longer the ugly duckling.
Armstrong's book expresses both admiration for this brilliant and troubled man, and at the same time exasperation. For me it is a case study of a conflicted genius dealing with life and the world as well as he could. Again, I recommend Grey Steel as a good read.
Now, here are the excerpts:
Death of Botha
Death of Botha
As soon as the [World War I] peace was signed, [South African Prime Minister Louis] Botha left Paris. His one desire was to see South Africa again. The homing instinct that comes to animals when their time to die is near was in him, for he was very ill. Orpen, the painter, had painted a picture of him at the Conference, but Death stared so surely out of the eyes that Orpen put his painting aside and did another.
From his father, Botha had inherited an internal complaint [Congenital syphilis? That was a common way of referring to it then]. In Paris the great plague of influenza, which was scything down men like ripe grass, had almost killed him. He had recovered from it slowly, but it had inflamed his old complaint, which now affected his heart and legs. On the voyage he lay nerveless in a long chair on deck, longing only to see South Africa under her sunshine.
Smuts remained a little longer. In England he was honoured, listened to, wanted. Lloyd George wanted him to become Ambassador at Washington. A group of politicians wanted him to stand for parliament and lead them. In England he could take a part in great Issues. World Issues, the things that interested him, were life- blood to him—the British Empire, the League of Nations, the fight against Bolshevism.
From South Africa came no urgent call for him to return. Hertzog, Malan, and Tielman Roos and their followers said it would be better if he stayed where he was: he was obviously more at home in Europe. Many of the newspapers agreed with them.
But South Africa called Smuts as insistently as it called Botha. He was flesh of its flesh, bone of its bone. He was rooted in South Africa, deep in its soil as his fathers before him. He could well understand that Hertzog wanted him to stay away, but that the people of South Africa would not welcome him back, after all he had done for them, he did not believe. In England, he calculated, he would be only one of many and perhaps soon forgotten. In South Africa he stood a head above the rest. "Better," as Caesar said, "be first in your village than second in Rome." If he was to remain a world figure it must be with South Africa and with his own people behind him. And Botha needed him.
Hardly had he arrived when Botha became more seriously ill, and one night he slid peacefully into deep sleep, and from sleep into the deeper sleep, and was gone. When Botha died, there went away a great man. Many men had greater capabilities and greater virtues; but there was about Botha a Majesty which all felt but which none could understand or explain by his looks, or by what he said, or even by what he did. It came of some Greatness inherent in the man himself.
Smuts came softly to the house in Sunnyside, on the hills above Pretoria, to say good-bye to his dead. He was stunned and lost. For twenty years Botha and he had stood together. They had often disagreed, but rarely quarrelled. Lord Buxton recorded how, during all the years he was Governor-General, he had once only had to settle a difference between them. They had stood
loyally side by side; instinctively and without need of words, they had understood each other.
"I," said Smuts on one occasion, "deal with administration. Botha deals with people."
But the combination had meant far more than that. Botha had been the leader, and now Smuts was as if the shell in which he had cased himself had been torn away and he had been left exposed. He was alone, as he had never been alone while Botha had stood shoulder to shoulder with him. He was suddenly intensely conscious of himself. His grief tore through all superficialities and moved him to his depths as nothing else could. Often in the past years he had hesitated, doubted himself, whether he was right or wrong, and forced himself by will-power to know he was right; but now he was aware, vividly aware, of himself and his imperfections; and he was humble.
The Governor-General called him to be Prime Minister. "I have," Smuts said at his first cabinet meeting, "I have neither tact nor patience, and you must
take me for what I am worth"; and even in saying this, he did not wish anyone to know how he felt, and he spoke quickly and abruptly, almost roughly.
Excerpt from Chapter 52
General Election Without Botha
General Election Without Botha
All politics in South Africa were exceedingly personal. The personality of the individual leader counted for more than his policy. Botha's principal followers had been the men of his commandos in the South Africa war. Smuts had few personal followers, and these became fewer. As Smuts had said, "I deal with administration. Botha deals with people." Now as Prime Minister he had to deal with people as well as administration, and whereas before his inability to handle men or establish personal contacts had not been so evident, now it stood out glaring and obvious before all.
He made no attempt to change. The one flash of self- revelation after Botha's death had burned out. He had shut himself within his shell once more, and he was the Smuts of the old days and the old ways. He would allow no one to know that he had any soft spot. On rare occasions, with friends, he could relax a little and become almost boyish, as a schoolmaster might unbend with his older and more privileged scholars, but never so that anyone could have taken a liberty with him, ragged or teased him, or even dared to slap him on the back with a cheery "Hallo, Jannie!" though he would have given much to be able to relax to that extent and to be popular.
"With the thoughts and emotions of the plain, ordinary people he had no contact." He despised the common herd and he "despised the human qualities which are elemental in successful handling of the multitude." His contact with first-class brains and his dealings with great issues in England made him more impatient now he had to deal with small administrative problems and slow, easy-going subordinates. He was intolerant of men whose brains moved more slowly than his own.
He became very moody. One day a visitor would find him alive, jumping up every few minutes as they talked, making a note or two, full of electric energy, and the next day the visitor would find that he would hardly look up, would glower, or go on reading papers, or gaze at the ceiling or stare through his visitor, or, rather, past him, with his blue eyes unseeing, and he would refuse to say a word. At social functions, such as opening a bazaar, he might be distrait or he might be charming, but even then he was cold and distant; he could not be effusive, or pay the blatant compliments which bazaar-organisers expected and rejoiced in.
He began to age. He was thinner and more lined, and his hair was rapidly going grey. He suffered often from the malaria which he had contracted in German East [Africa], but he would not give way to it. He dosed himself, dragged himself to his work, and forced himself to concentrate. After a bad bout of malaria he was often irritable, taciturn and morose, and impossible to approach, and sometimes deeply depressed and very pessimistic.
When talking politics he could rarely rouse, or even interest, his audience. He was prosy, dull, ineffective, carried little conviction, was often verbose with much repetition, and he had neither the brisk wit nor the fire which could catch the spirit of a crowd and make it laugh or jeer. He might be talking from an ox-wagon to an audience in the veld, talking of great things in Afrikaans phrases so well chosen that they were Biblical in their sonorous beauty. He would try to reach down to the minds of those before him and fail, and, finding that they did not understand him, he would become lame in speech and awkward in gesture. Any quick-witted heckler could make him stammer and uncomfortable. If heckled he grew irritated, but he would not argue. He would shrug his shoulders and leave his questioners to think what they liked....
Excerpt from Chapter 53
A foot in Two Continents
A foot in Two Continents
….In the spring of 1921 he left Cape Town to attend another Imperial Conference in London. Up to the time he sailed, he was trying to answer, and with considerable irritation, various criticism of his actions, and he left with the Opposition snarling close behind him, and himself snapping back at them.
In London he was met with friendly applause. He spoke at big meetings on European affairs and was listened to with deep attention. His advice was sought by important people. The King invited him to stay at Windsor Castle and asked his advice on various points in a speech he was to make when he opened the new Ulster Parliament House. The Cabinet discussed the same speech with him.
All through the south of Ireland the rebels were fighting with the English soldiers and the police, but the rebels were nearing their end. They could with difficulty and for an emergency turn out three hundred gunmen, and even of these three hundred they could not be sure. They were almost beaten. Their leaders sent to Smuts through Tom Casement, an Irishman who had served under him in German East. Smuts spoke to Lloyd George and offered to go over and see the leaders. Lloyd George was glad to let him go, so long as it was unofficial, but doubted if he could do any good.
Smuts saw the leaders, Arthur Griffiths, de Valera, Erskine Childers, desperate and suspicious men, but they listened to him. He gave them fatherly advice. "The English are a queer people," he said. "If you are outside their family group, they suspect you of the worst. Inside the family you can do anything you like, and you can get anything out of them. I know, for I've been in both positions. So come into our family, our Commonwealth of Nations. You'll find it your best policy."
He returned to England. "I feel as if I am back from the fourteenth century," he said, but he told the Cabinet that a solution was possible. It had become more "a human than a constitutional problem." He persuaded some of the die-hard ministers, such as Winston Churchill and Birkenhead, that a truce and a conference were best; and he left for South Africa feeling that he had done a fine piece of work; and he left acclaimed as a great statesman.
He landed in Cape Town feeling unwell; he had been seasick for nearly all the voyage. On the quay and in the streets were crowds of unemployed, who hooted and booed him: he was aggrieved. In the House he was asked sneering questions: what he had done in England,
looking after other people's affairs, "clearing up other people's messes"; and he snapped back with little wisdom.
He was visited by deputations with complaints, deputations of taxpayers, of civil servants asking for their war bonuses back, of railwaymen protesting at cuts of pay, of natives, of miners, and of the trade unions. He often answered them curtly and abruptly, without any of the calm judgment he had shown in Ireland, and sent them away more dissatisfied than before.
And behind all these deputations were the beginnings of a big industrial upheaval, which, handled wisely at once, might have been avoided….
Excerpts from Chapter 56
With Botha gone, there appeared a defect in Smuts which had not been obvious before. Botha had always seen "the end in the beginning," and so planned far ahead. Smuts could look far away towards the stars, or conceive great world-movements, but in practical affairs he had no long or constructive policies.
As in war so in politics and administration he had the mentality of the raider, not of the general. He dealt with each difficulty in turn, and not as part of a general advance. In front of him he saw a ridge held by the enemy. He drove them off or cleverly outflanked them, and then he looked to see the next difficulty. There was a joke in Pretoria that when Smuts was asked for a general policy he said, "We will begin plan-making," but no plan came; and his distracted colleagues and assistants tore their hair —for he was always busy and would not see them. He was, in fact, avoiding a decision on some big issue.
At times there came creeping back in him, for all his despotic insistence that he was right in all things, doubts, making him hesitate. Before, he had been able to consult with Botha, who gave him confidence. Now he had cut himself off from other advisers, and he trusted little in any man's advice. As ever, he forced the doubts out of his mind, forced himself to know he was right, and, with no one to restrain him, did and said violent things — because of his doubts.
He grew exceedingly unpopular. He rode roughshod over people and made many enemies and did not care what enemies he made. The Upper House of Parliament was full of experienced and older men. Smuts did not conceal the fact that he had no respect for them and that he could rule better if they were out of the way. In the Lower House he sat usually silent and aloof, but when he spoke it was often with a caustic, acid scorn and a cynical sarcasm that made members hate him. He rarely, however, descended to personalities, and of his worst enemies, even of Hertzog and Tielman Roos, who could get under his skin and hurt him, he always spoke well.
His subordinates and the civil servants were nervous of him. He was utterly impatient of slowness and stupidity. He preferred novel rather than tried and tested lines of action and methods. If anyone tried to explain a difficulty, he brushed him aside, looked on him as
obstructive, a man to be sent elsewhere or anyway to be ignored. Whatever Smuts wished, must be done at once and without hesitation.
From many sides he was given warning of coming trouble. Members of his own party, especially those from Natal, began to criticise him. He looked on those who were old as dodderers and the others as disloyal to him. Articles in the newspapers said that the feeling of the country was turning against him. His party managers warned him that Hertzog was flirting with Creswell, a retired engineer who led Labour, and that there was some agreement between them. Smuts did not believe them. He would not listen to what he did not want to know.
Excerpt from Chapter 57
.…Hertzog [who'd replaced Smuts as prime minister] could not bring forward a proposal for a republic or secession from the British Empire, his pact with Creswell made that impossible; but he kept alive amongst the Dutch their hatred for England. He raised the question of the right of South Africa, in case England should go to war with some other nation, to declare herself neutral and still remain inside the British Empire. And in 1927 he wished to have a separate flag for South Africa and to discard the Union Jack.
Mr. Amery, the Dominions Secretary from England, was touring South Africa at the time. He suggested two separate flags to be flown, as in Malta, side by side: the one to be the Union Jack: the other a South African flag. He used every form of persuasion, but Hertzog would not compromise. Hertzog's proposal roused all the hostility, which had begun to disappear, between the English and the Dutch. It became the topic of conversation in every village and dorp, and the burning
argument in every hotel and bar and farm. It grew quickly into a quarrel, which boiled up angrily. Englishmen and Dutchmen insulted each other openly, swore they would shoot each other rather than give way.
Smuts toured the country. He opposed Hertzog's proposal, but he begged for reason and compromise. The Dutch met him everywhere with fierce hostility. His meetings were broken up, and he was howled down. At Bloemhof, in the Transvaal, Hertzog's supporters raided the hall where Smuts was due to speak, broke the furniture, chased out the police, tore up the Union Jack which was on the platform, and swore that they would kill Smuts if he persisted.
"A thousand men will not make me change my mind," replied Smuts unmoved, and kept steadily on. The debates in the House were vitriolic. Smuts rose to speak, as now he always did, deliberately, quietly, and without heat. He expressed regret at the passions which Hertzog had roused, and in restrained, steady language he made a simple speech. Hertzog's supporters answered with howls, taunts, and more insults. A crisis was at hand. Civil war was not far off.
The Governor-General, the Earl of Athlone, saw the danger. He begged Smuts to meet Hertzog at his house. Smuts agreed readily. They dined in a party; Smuts unusually affable, Hertzog on tiptoe, expecting Smuts to patronise him. After dinner the Governor-General manoeuvred the two into a room and drew his other guests away. Three hours later Smuts and Hertzog came out. As they said good night, they nodded to each other. The controversy over the Flag had been settled. The turmoil in the country artificially roused, died down rapidly. South Africa flew her own Flag, which consisted of the republican colours with a small panel in the centre made up of the Union Jack and the flags of the two old republics; an ugly flag unworthy of South Africa. This was to be flown side by side with the Union Jack. The moderation and compromise of Smuts had won….
Philosophy Of Life
Philosophy Of Life
SMUTS left Groote Schuur [the prime minister's residence] with little regret. He had lived there for long periods alone, while his family remained on the farm at Irene. [As prime minister] he had only camped in the big house, a lone man in a wilderness of fine rooms and beautiful things and luxury. These he neither understood nor desired. He preferred the roughness and the discomfort of his farm with the veld wide open round him on every side. Now that he was out of office, he spent much of his time there.
At Irene he could live as he wished. In his office he was always correctly and carefully dressed. On the farm he wore ancient clothes, a dilapidated pair of trousers, and a khaki shirt open at the neck. He got up early, drank two or three mugs of coffee, and went off on a horse to look round at the thousands of trees he had planted, the avenue of maples, the willows down by the stream, the fruit trees of all sorts, and his field of lucerne [alfalfa], and his prize cattle and breeding bulls; and to talk with his stockmen and labourers.
He came back to the food of the veld Dutchman, rough and sustaining, and then went to a big room which he had made into a study and lined the walls with shelves full of his books. Here he sat and read, and no one dared to disturb him. He read heavy official books, textbooks, reports, equally heavy philosophic treatises, mixed in with histories and some literature—American, German, and English. He kept up a large correspondence with many friends in England about the League of Nations, the Peace Treaties, and the problems of Europe. He saw visitors reluctantly and usually with some suspicion, wondering what they wanted.
As when a young student, his real hobby was still the study of grasses. He was not moved by their beauty, nor by the wonder of their fertilisation. He studied them with a museum brain. He went on long treks to collect them, dried them, searched amongst them for new species, and catalogued and classified these by their Latin names into their families and sub-families. In this his knowledge was complete and exact.
He was not worried for money. For years he had drawn the salary of a cabinet minister. He had good assets, and a second farm in the Western Transvaal. Even if he had been short he would not have allowed thoughts of money to worry him. Book-keeping and accounts wearied him to distraction. He had no idea of the position of his own personal finances, and he ignored any reference to it from his wife or the bank. They would muddle along somehow, he said. He ran Irene with princely gestures, buying expensive cattle, which rarely paid, and experimenting in new manures and new machinery, which paid even less.
For his own personal wants he needed little money. Except for his longing, the longing of every Dutchman, to own land, he wished to possess nothing. A bed, a rough table, rough clothes, rough food, an old wooden chair with a leather seat made by his father, a few books, and some writing material, and he was satisfied. He was almost free from possessions.
His family were as simple in their needs and tastes as he was, a haphazard, veritable circus of a family, who filled the house and looked on him with awe and, as he once said himself, "My children treat me as a distinguished stranger." Many a man with half his income and none of his position had more comfort and more refinement in his home.
Mrs. Smuts kept the house and boasted that they lived as veld Dutch and that she was proud to be the wife of a Dutch farmer. She was a shrewd, capable woman, without any pretensions or artificialities. She was always ready to give hospitality or to help any neighbour who was in need. She cared little for dress or appearances. Had she decked herself out and varnished her nails she would have shocked herself as much as Smuts.
Ever since those first days in Stellenbosch, when they had walked sedately side by side under the oak trees up the street to the college, she was the only person with whom Smuts could relax completely, be himself, and be natural. He discussed all his difficulties with her, and she gave him sage advice.
She had still no liking for the English. The tragedies of the war with the English had burned far more deeply into her memory than into the memory of Smuts. None the less she never stood in his way when he wished to deal with the English, and after his defeat in 1924 she came out actively to help him keep the connection with the British Empire. When he went abroad, she preferred to remain in South Africa. When he was in his most difficult moods, she knew how to handle him.
She looked up to him with the same steady devotion with which she had looked up to him in the first years of their marriage. He was to her "The old Baas." When he was sunk in despair and ready to give up she could still rouse him and draw him back, revived and ready to fight again.
Whenever overworked in his office, badgered too severely by his enemies, or with things going wrong, Smuts had often spoken with pleasure of the days when he would be able to retire, to return to Irene to farm and read and sit in peace and to think. But now that he could do these things, he found that they rapidly palled. He was not at heart a farmer. He was a politician. But the rough and tumble of leading the Opposition, the political meetings in the country, and the constant speaking against the policies of the Government, and not fighting for his own, were not what he wanted. He wanted to be back in the saddle, controlling, overworked, badgered, dealing with masses of problems and difficulties, deciding the lives of other men, and guiding South Africa in the way she should go.
He soon grew restless. He planned out far- reaching schemes, but he had no power to carry them out. He went for long walks, either in the veld beyond the farm or climbing in some mountain district, pacing solidly along,, hour after hour, often alone, or, if with companions, a little way ahead, saying little, and, if spoken to, gruff and even morose.
He was thinking. To crystallise the ideas that hung as if in solution in their minds, other men had to talk or to write and rewrite. Smuts walked, and while he walked his subconscious mind chewed over facts and the theories fed to it from his memory and his brain digested them and formed them into the bones and flesh and skin of complete and concrete ideas. So that when he came to speak or to write he did not hesitate.
To fill his time and absorb some of his restless energy he wrote and published a philosophical treatise, Holism and Evolution. He had been pondering the theory since the days when as a student he had studied Walt Whitman. "It has been," he wrote, "my companion throughout a crowded life." He had drafted it during the first session he had sat in opposition. It contained his philosophy of life, the conception which had directed his political efforts, and it was begotten out of his own character. His philosophy was based on Evolution. Its name he took from the Greek words to holon, The Whole, and defined it as a primary law "according to which Evolution is a rising series of wholes, of which man is the highest."
The Universe, he explained, was a process which consisted of creating larger and better wholes. The atom was a whole, but as an organism it contained a small extra force, or credit, which dragged it always towards and made it tend to coalesce with other atoms, and together they produced larger and better wholes, which in turn, though they were themselves perfect wholes, tended to coalesce with other wholes and make even greater wholes; and the process, beginning at the atom, or before the atom, continued until it reached the apex of perfection in human personality.
He believed that this process, "applied, beyond the domain of biology. . . to human associations, like the State." He had, therefore, laboured to make the provinces of South Africa, which each in themselves were complete wholes, coalesce into the larger and better whole of the Union of South Africa, which again coalesced with the other Dominions and Colonies into the British Empire, which in time should coalesce with other nations into the League of Nations.
Here was the thread that held together and made a chain of all his variegated political efforts. This process, he explained further, was in action throughout the Universe. It was dependent on an inherent impulse or a living purpose existing in everything. Yet in his Universe there appeared to be no need nor even room for God. There was a design, but no Designer. A purpose, but no directing Brain. There might be a permeating influence that might vaguely be labelled "God," but there was no personal God interested in men. In Smuts' philosophy there was, for the ordinary man, no God.
Smuts' philosophical treatise showed his immense knowledge of facts and theories, and how subtly and powerfully he could weave these together to prove his idea. He spoke of it as "a new religion," but as an explanation of politics it seemed to offer a complicated explanation of a simple and normal historical process— of states combining for security or for common interests, and it did not explain why they broke up as easily as they combined.
And as the creed of Smuts, which welled up out of his very being, it was Smuts himself, for it was based on a stupendous intellectual arrogance. It was the Philosophy of Supreme Human Arrogance. He proclaimed "Human personality is the summit of perfection." He had none of the humility of the psalmist when he cried out, "Oh, God! What is man that Thou art mindful of him?" Here [instead] was the arrogant boast of Lenin and the belief of Mustafa Kemal. "Man is the prophet of his own perfection."
[Here I'll summarize what comes next. In 1929 (Chapter 59), Smuts returned to politics, and was defeated by his old adversary, the zealous and bitter British hater (and baiter), James Hertzog. Hertzog's attacks on Smuts were personal and savage, Smut's responses mild. But the temper of politics, in South Africa, was toxic, and mildness not a viable attitude.
[Thus Smuts went not to Groote Schuur, but on a tour of England and America. Where his involvement in the Treaty of Versailles, and his major role in the architecture of the League of Nations, made him more popular and admired than ever. When he left for South Africa again, he was "firmly established as an Elder Statesman of England."
[He arrived to find everything changed. The wheels had come off the South African economy, and for Hertzog and his government. Their backs were against the wall.
[Then, as Armstrong describes it: ]
Smuts saw that victory was near. Cape Town, all the coast towns with their hinterlands, and most of the Cape Province were with him. Natal and every Englishman in South Africa would vote for him, together with Johannesburg, financiers, shopkeepers, and workers alike.... Hertzog and his minister of finance, with their folly and ignorance...had all but ruined them and...Smuts had been for months demanding that South Africa should come off [the gold standard].
Hertzog's supporters were in the Interior, the farmers of the veld of the Transvaal and of the Free State, but many of these, after the drought and the depression, were against him. Hertzog himself was losing heart. He felt insecure. He did not know how many of his party, and even of his cabinet colleagues, were loyal to him. They were constantly criticising him. The party was full of complaints and he was not strong enough or leader enough to hold them together. He sent word by roundabout methods that if Smuts made an offer of coalition he would accept it.
Excerpt from Chapter 61
What is Best for South Africa
What is Best for South Africa
When Smuts received the message he had to make the most difficult decision of his life. He was convinced that he could break the Government, go to the country, and come back with a big majority to be Prime Minister for at least five years. It meant for him the end of this stagnation of his life, of useless opposition. It meant power and the work that was his lifeblood. He was young no more. He had curbed much of his impatience, but he could not afford to be patient now. He had only a few years ahead left to him.
For a minute he drew back and offered to resign and clear the way for others. He was wanted and respected in England. There was big work that he could do there. But his supporters, Patrick Duncan and the others, would not have it. It would be deserting, leaving South Africa in the lurch, and leaving them in the lurch. They had stood by him when times had been bad. He must in loyalty continue to lead them, especially now that there was success ahead. He had only two courses : to fight for power and to be Prime Minister, or to combine with Hertzog.
To make up his mind, he needed to be alone. He walked away out on to the mountains, to think as he walked, and came back to spend a night as well, making up his mind.
To combine with Hertzog was to combine with the man who had attacked him for years. He must forget all the insults. He did not find that difficult, but he would have to tread down his pride, for Hertzog was to remain as Prime Minister and he was to be only his deputy [and minister of justice]. He would have little power and yet much responsibility and have to bear the blame for all the errors.
He would have to be for ever compromising on his principles and consenting to much with which he did not agree, and this was contrary to his whole character. He would not be able to act without constant consultation with Hertzog, and he could not help looking down on Hertzog as slow-witted, dull, and without vision. He must conceal his feelings and continually curb his impatience. In all this there was little that appealed to him, but that was what coalition with Hertzog would mean for him personally. His whole instinct, his whole being, craved to fight, to win power, and to rule.
And if he fought? What then? He looked round. He saw all round him the beginnings of a new nation, stirring with awkward movements as a child but newly born. Out of the discords and the travail of the past, out of the errors and the tragedies…he saw that a nation had been born, a nation of Dutchmen and Englishmen who were realising vaguely that this South Africa was theirs, and that though they might often disagree, yet they were brothers, that they were the South African Nation.
If he fought now, he would renew and perpetuate the rivalry between the Dutch and the English, and perhaps stifle this young nation at its birth….He looked down the years behind him and saw failure and achievement, elation and despair, like sunshine and shadow in a wood, mixed together in a broken pattern, and through that broken pattern came forming something: came forming the figure of an ideal, of his Ideal. Out of smaller units was being formed a finer Unity: out of men and races and provinces, a Nation.
And Botha? What would have he decided? Botha had loved South Africa. He loved South Africa as intensely, as desperately, as passionately, as Botha had loved her.
"What is best for South Africa?" Botha would have asked. The answer to that question should be his decision. If he combined with Hertzog, South Africa would have peace. She would suffer from the normal pains of growing and from the many ailments of a child, but she would have the chance to grow up lusty and strong into a nation.
He made his decision. He renounced his pride, his arrogant contempt for the little men with whom he must work, his personal interests, his desire and his whole instinct to fight and win power and to rule; and he held out the hand of friendship to Hertzog, who grasped it.
At a general election in the spring of 1933 they swept the country. No opposition worth the name remained. There were no Dutch and no English parties. They were united. South Africa might develop in peace.
And by that Act of Renunciation, Jan Christiaan Smuts broke faith with his interests and his instincts and kept faith with his Ideal.