It has been an interesting couple of days with some very quick ‘damage control’ public relations statements in response to The Sunday Times’ article on the University of Cambridge’s decision to remove Jan Smuts’ bust and portrait from its public spaces. The good news in all this media spin-doctoring – reason has prevailed and we are assured the portrait and bust of Jan Smuts will remain in public view in their original places.
The Sunday Times Newspaper in London published two articles on Sunday 5 August 2018. One byCambridge students topple bust of Britain’s wartime ally Jan Smuts” and this was followed up by a related article by Tony Allen-Mills titled “Fall of Boer hero Jan Smuts would have made Churchill squawk”. Sian Griffiths referenced her University of Cambridge source stating that “Cambridge confirmed both Smuts pieces had been moved”.
On Monday morning 6 August 2018 The Observation Post published a blog to the above effect titled “To the University of Cambridge’s eternal shame!”. By Monday afternoon the University of Cambridge was in damage control mode and quickly published a statement to the effect that the bust and portrait are to remain in place, spinning ‘fake news’ by the Sunday Times as the rally point in an article published by Rosie Bradbury titled “Fact check: Jan Smuts portrait and bust were not ‘toppled’ by Cambridge students” in ‘Varsity’ the University of Cambridge’s official news portal.
The University of Cambridge’s joint statement from Christ’s JCR President Grace Etheredge and JCR Vice-President Oliver Jones read “general consensus has been for portraits to remain”, but that historical context of controversial figures should be added outlining “the good and bad of what they did so as to not white wash college history”.
The movement of the portrait was explained by a washy statement which read “the portrait had been temporarily taken down a few years ago, but that the College had swapped it back again.”
They went on with their spin-doctor strategy to still paint Smuts in a poor light by stating; “Smuts publicly denigrated the black population of South Africa” – which is a baseless and unsupported comment. From a balance point of view, if Cambridge was accusing the Sunday Times of peddling falsehoods, they managed to peddle a falsehood in their response, which ironically would now discredit both Cambridge and the Sunday Times in our eyes.
Now, The Sunday Times is a very well-regarded newspaper, both Sian Griffiths and Tony-Allan Mills are very reputable journalists and to date The Sunday Times has not published a retraction and have stood by their articles and their journalists, and there is something to be said for that. It is also clear that the University of Cambridge went into counter measure and damage control mode against the backlash the articles created.
To make sure, the Observation Post approached the Smuts family for clarity, and we are assured that the portrait and bust are currently in their rightful place. We trust and hope that the University takes on board the very negative backlash from the broader community that it serves when considering removing portraits again and continues to be leader in history that it is and serves to honour the people who have served it – especially Jan Smuts.
In this we are glad that for the time being the University has avoided succumbing to the new trend to ‘Revolutionist history’ touted by far left radical ‘anti-colonial’ students. Finally – Reason has prevailed in what has been a sea of insanity, caused by a very violent counter-history movement in South Africa, the ripple effect of which is now spilling over to the Old Schools. We ‘doff’ our caps to the University of Cambridge for rectifying and/or maintaining its artworks of Jan Smuts, whichever way it may be.
Written by Peter Dickens
Related article: To the University of Cambridge’s eternal shame!