The Letter Jan Smuts Should Have Written

2017-01-19 12:22

4 September 1950

I, Jan Christiaan Smuts, have but few days left on this earth. And when I die so too will die a link to much of our history. I am the last living member of Kruger’s government; the last senior general of the Anglo-Boer War; the last Minister of the Old Transvaal Colonial Government; the last, but one, of the signatories to the Treaty of Versailles; and the last member of the War Cabinet of the First World War.

It was I who persuaded the British prime minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, in 1905 to return the Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State to self-rule. It was I who wrote the founding constitution of South Africa, and then had it ratified by the British in 1909. The British government pressed the issue of franchise for the Africans, but I persuaded them that there was no need to extend the vote to black people in the Transvaal, the Free State and Natal, and that white South Africans would treat Africans with honour and dignity – as proper citizens of the country. I gave my word to the British, and they in turn gave us the country - only eight years after the bitter Boer defeat at the hands of the Empire. We lost the war, but thanks, in no small measure to my good relations with the British, we won the peace. We, Afrikaners, sought only self-rule in the Orange Free State and in the Transvaal, and yet we received so much more. From 1910 we essentially had the run of the entire country, including Natal and the Cape Province.

As Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa from 1910 to 1919, and then Prime Minister from 1919 to 1924, and then again from 1939 to 1948 – I twice took South Africa into war on the side of our British allies, and on the side of freedom and democracy. Twice we defeated the forces of reactionary ultra-nationalism.

Besides being instrumental in establishing the Union of South Africa, I was also singularly responsible for establishing the League of Nations. I had a hand in the formation of the United Nations, and I wrote the preamble of the United Nations Charter. And I was the only person to sign the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations.

I write all this not to boast. Indeed, I do not look back with any sense of triumph on my eventful life. And, I look to the future with a sense of foreboding. I created this country in my image, or rather I sought to do so. My vision was for a humane country that would deal justly with the weak and dispossessed. When the National Party, under the leadership of my childhood friend DF Malan, took power from me in 1948 I had occasion to rethink my political philosophy. I believe that apartheid will forever stain the soul of the Afrikaner. Where once the Afrikaner was admired as a freedom-loving people who stood up to the worst impulses of imperialism, in future they will be known primarily for the evil done in the name of apartheid.

I will soon be dead, but my legacy will live on. And, I will be remembered as the man who unwittingly gave the country to those who would take us back to a pre-modern, sectarian past. All the good I have done will be over-shadowed by the very infamy of this policy of strict segregation.

In 1905, and then again in 1909, I persuaded the British to give us back our country. When they did, I wrote: “They gave us back, in everything but name, our country. After four years! Has such a miracle of trust and magnanimity ever happened before.” Their assumption, and indeed my promise to them, was that Africans would over time be given political rights. I argued against the extension of political rights to Africans back then, because I knew this would be unpalatable to my white constituency, and I also felt in my heart that I could deal fairly with other races. This was a mistake. The central evil of South Africa today is that Africans must rely on the goodness of whites for their grievances to be heard. Their lack of political power means that they are essentially outsiders in their own land, and there is little incentive for a white government, who does not need their political support, to treat them with honour and respect. And now this is exactly what has happened. The National Party has appealed to the very worst in human nature – greed, exclusiveness, fear, and hate – wrapped up in high-minded ideology, and supported by some perverse theology. This policy of apartheid is a repudiation of Britain’s deal with white South Africa in 1909. It is not only wrong, and evil, but I believe constitutionally illegitimate.

Therefore, on my death, I want it known to the world, and particularly to Britain who bequeathed this country in trust to the white population, that I do not want my name used to bolster the legitimacy of this system. And that all sensible people, here and abroad, who care about this country should do whatever it takes to put South Africa back on the path to some sort of normalcy in relations between the races. That South Africa will only join the community of civilised nations when the original sin of political exclusion of blacks is corrected and when legitimate representatives of the different races enter into a power-sharing agreement as equals. As citizens of one country.

Angus Douglas is a writer and speaker who lives between Johannesburg and Cape Town. His latest talk is titled: Jan Smuts New Age Man.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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