An opposing view, a massacre, a revolt, and a Nazi.
There is an old joke in Afrikaner politics, put two Afrikaners in a room and they will come up with three political parties!
It’s funny because throughout history it has always proven to be very true, As a nation from the get go, literally from the Great Trek serious schisms have occurred within the Afrikaner culture – from the Great Trek’s “Vlugkommando” where two trekking parties could NOT agree a overall Commando Commander for an assault on the Zulu on the 6th April 1838 and decided instead to have two equal Commanders in equal positions of authority – the result (if you’re a military vet – you guessed it) .. a Zulu victory and the death of 10 Voortrekkers including Piet and Dirkie Uys – the surviving “Vlug” Kommando (meaning “Flee” or ‘run-away’ commando) splitting ways after the battle, both accusing each other of been “Veraaiers” (traitors) and heading off on their respective treks.
So, as humorous as it is seriously tragic, nothing represents this dichotomy of views more so than this image of Jan Smut’s Commando during the South African War (1899-1902) a.k.a. The 2nd Boer War. In it are two leaders who have – right upfront – two massively differing opinions, two completely differing views of life and vastly differing outlooks on the objects of the war and the country as a whole going forward. So much so that it is a surprise that Smuts was even able to command this Commando, that his is arguably one of the most successful ‘Bittereinder’ General-ships of the war is even more surprising, and testament to Smuts’ abilities.
Image: General Jan Smuts’ Commando during the South African War 1899-1902. Smuts and Maritz are seated in the centre – photo colourised by Jennifer Bosch
So, what’s with this leadership battle – what’s with these vastly differing views? The two people in this famous photograph are Manie Maritz and Jan Smuts, and the composition of the shot by the photographer ironically betrays their future feelings towards one another as an intense dislike of one another would emerge – and even here, almost by purpose, Smuts is seated opposite Maritz for a group portrait and both of them have their backs to one another looking the other way.
This differing view and outlook of these two men would forever taint Smuts’ commando with a mass murder of civilians – something your school history book would have conveniently glanced over – this differing outlook on Afrikanerdom would result in a serious schism in Afrikaner cultural fabric after World War 1, a schism that still exists to this day believe it or not and it would it would even add to the “Nazification” of the Afrikaner far right-wing prior to World War 2 and as a result create a diametrically opposing view of Afrikaner identity itself.
What, Maritz, Smuts … mass murder and Nazism – you smoking your socks again right Mr. Dickens? Well, no – let me explain … and if you are a fan of the 1914 Boer Revolt and a Boer Romantic looking to this revolt as the bedrock of Boer stoicism and independence – now is the time to look away, as this next bit is going to sting a little.
Let’s get this out upfront. General Marie Maritz, as the leader of the 1914 Boer revolt does not end up a very redeemable figure in history bathed in glory, instead he ends up as a murderer, an antisemitic, a racist and a devout Nazi … the bit your Nationalist inspired school history book did not want you to know about him … the inconvenient truth.
An opposing view
Let’s start with Boer War 2, and upfront Maritz and Smuts are already at different points of view in Smuts’ Commando. It starts with Maritz’ rank, role and appointment in the Commando. Maritz would maintain Smuts gave him the rank of ‘General’ as a field commission – in the Republican Armies this was known as a “veggeneraal” or ‘fighting-general’. Deneys Reitz, Smuts’ long-time right-hand man, confidant, and friend, has a different view and claimed Maritz was only a “leader of various rebel bands” and never given a Generalship – as Reitz was also on Smuts’ staff, Reitz would have known if Martiz was made a ‘veggeneraal’or not.
The two leaders upfront also differ on leadership style, experience and philosophy. Smuts is a skilled lawyer and academic, he is a ‘Philosopher General’ and takes a very holistic view to the fighting seeking a consolidation of ‘white civilisation’ in Southern Africa between Boer and Brit as its final object. Smuts also has an outward look, seeking through the ‘consolidation of the white races’ good neighbourliness with all South Africa’s peoples, including South Africa’s ‘coloureds’ and ‘blacks’. Maritz on the other hand is a ‘Soldier’s General’, he starts his military career as a guard at the Johannesburg Fort after the Jameson Raid and subsequently becomes a ZARP Policeman. Maritz has a reputation as a “thug” he’s a devout Boer Republican, he wants nothing to do with reconciliation with the ‘hated’ British, he is inwardly focussed and views ‘coloureds’ and ‘blacks’ very suspiciously.
So, Smuts and Maritz are fundamentally different in their leadership styles, outlooks and personalities and it would come to a head towards the end of Boer War 2 in what was to become known as the ‘Leliefontein massacre’. For those who have an abiding admiration for Smuts, now is also the time to also look away, as some historians have tarnished Smuts with the title of “mass murderer” as it took place ‘under his watch’ so to speak, but the culprit is really Maritz – so what happened?
Over two days, starting on the 31st January 1902, the ‘noble’ Boer bittereinder effort of the Boer War, and even Jan Smuts, would emerge forever tarnished by what is considered by some as the first massacre of innocents of the 20th Century.
A rather dishonourable title and achievement not often emphasised by Boer War ‘Republican’ historians, journalists and commentators – rather conveniently ignored by them is the nature of this phase of the war really – the repeated targeting, pillaging and ransacking of mission stations, ‘hensopper’ farms (farms belonging to Boers who surrendered prematurely during the amnesty), ‘Joiner’ farms (farms belonging to Boers who joined the British) and even tribal villages by marauding Bittereinder groupings. This period also sees many Black and Coloureds executed by Bittereinder Boer firing squads and hangman nooses, mainly charged with “spying” for or “working” with the British. It is not such a ‘glorious’ end to a noble fight to the end, as romantic Boer war novelists would have you believe – its harsh war – bloody and revengeful, and nobody in the ‘Guerrilla’ phase of the Boer War comes out smelling of roses – not the British with their tactic of Scorched Earth and certainly not the Boers with their tactic of Marauding.
Many of these actions were of little real tangible military value in the war against the British and have more to do with retribution than anything else, and front and centre in this controversial phase is Manie Maritz, who whilst he is under Jan Smuts’ command, rides into the ‘Nama’ missionary town of Leliefontein in the far north west Cape – deep inside the British Cape Colony. Here Maritz immediately detains the Methodist missionary – Barnabas Links – who was acting in place of the absent Rev J.G. Locke. Maritz subsequently reads out a proclamation threatening death to both residents and the town’s missionaries alike if they are found guilty of aiding or abetting the British.
The Nama people (the local people made up of a mix of KhoiKhoi, Namibian and Tswana) and their missionaries are British subjects living in a British colony and fearing for their lives don’t take lightly to the proclamation threat and become steadily agitated. From here out there is a lot of conflicting account, in detaining Barnabas Links a rather strong verbal exchange over jurisdiction and authority takes place and some say Links strikes Maritz with his stick, others say Maritz strikes Links with his sjambok. Either way, a ‘fists and knives” scuffle breaks between a group of citizens and Maritz’ men, one Republican is injured, Links is also injured, and Maritz and his men manage to disentangle themselves from the melee, leaving 8 Leliefonteiners dead, and ride back to their rendezvous camp.
That night, Maritz and his men become indignant at their treatment at the hands of the Leliefonteiners and elect to exact revenge by wiping the missionary off the face of the earth. So, the next morning the Commando detachment numbering about 100 mounted Boers attacks the missionary in full force. The Nama and their missionaries are no match for a fully armed Boer commando, having some antiquated muskets they try and hold off the assault and most take refuge in the mission building. A further 27 Leliefonteiners are killed (some accounts say a total of 43) and approximately 100 are injured.
Image: Modern day image of the Methodist Mission Church, Leliefontein (erected in 1855, it was the third church built at the mission station).
Maritz then directs all the surviving women and children, male survivors, and the wounded (including Links) be taken away in chains to the Boer positions surrounding Okiep, one account points to the local blacksmith been instructed to fashion iron shackles for this purpose. Some accounts also point to general violence been meted out by the Boers against surviving Leliefonteiners after the skirmish and ‘refugees’ been hunted down and killed.
Maritz instructs that the Mission Station be pillaged and then burned down – all the captured sheep and grain are to be forwarded to a Boer supply depot. The missionary is completely destroyed and the dead Leliefonteiners are left where they died – and here they remained unburied for months.
So, how does Smuts and his General Staff react to the news that a detachment of his Commando had ransacked a missionary and killed over 30 poorly armed or unarmed British civilians in a revenge attack? Deneys Reitz on arriving at the destroyed mission station described the scene as follows:
“We found the place sacked and gutted and among the rocks beyond the buried houses lay 20 or 30 dead Hottentots, still clutching their antiquated muzzleloaders. This was Maritz’s handiwork. He had ridden into the station with a few men to interview the European missionaries, when he was set upon by armed Hottentots, he and his escorts narrowly escaping with their lives. To avenge the insult, he returned the next morning with a stronger force and wiped out the settlement, which seemed to many of us a ruthless and unjustifiable act. General Smuts said nothing but I saw him walk past the boulders where the dead lay, and on his return he was moody and curt… we lived in an atmosphere of rotting corpses for some days.”Deneys Reitz
Smuts, although clearly unimpressed with Maritz, actually comes through for Maritz in accounting the massacre in his letter to General de la Rey, he down-plays the instance as a “close shave” for Maritz and somewhat covers up the incident, citing that Maritz was attacked by a knobkerrie whilst acting as a peace envoy, it was taken as a sign of attack and only “8 hottentots” were killed due “to misunderstanding and ignorance” (Nel, Eben: Kaapse rebelle van die Hantam-karoo, p 461).
Some commentators point to this as collusion, as Maritz is completely exonerated and never held to account for the massacre – whereas similar instances of ‘murdering’ civilians in the cases of the Australian officer Lt. Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant and the Boer Commandant Gideon Scheepers landed them both in front of their respective firing squads.
To further demonstrate just how off the hinge Maritz was, the last real Boer action of the Boer War was when Jan Smuts’ Commando laid siege to the mining town of Okiep in the British Cape Colony in April, 1902. On hearing the news of the Peace Conference, Reitz writes “General Smuts set to work at once. Next morning a messenger was sent into O’Okiep, to advise the garrison that both sides were to refrain front active military operations while the Congress lasted”.
Jan Smuts then left the siege of O’okiep to take part in the final Peace talks at Vereeniging at the end of April 1902. With Smuts away Manie Maritz decided to attack Okiep with the idea of literally wiping the entire town off the map, using the commandeered Namaqua United Copper Company locomotive ‘Pioneer’ – which was used to propel a mobile bomb in the form of a wagonload of dynamite into the besieged town. The attack failed when the train derailed, snagged upon a barbed wire fence which wrapped around the points, spilling the dynamite upon the ground which burnt out harmlessly.
The exercise could have resulted in killing large numbers of women and children (mainly coloured) who sheltered behind the defences, the failure of the operation was a blessing at a time when deliberations at the Vereeniging peace talks potentially heralded the end of the conflict. Smuts would again gloss over the incident and cover for Maritz when he stated that the railway was still intact after the incident anyway, and since there were women and children in O’okiep town, all the commando was allowed to do was to give O’okiep a “tremendous fright with a harmless explosion.”
Images: General Jan Smuts and General Christiaan Beyers at the Vereeniging Peace negotiations (left), and the locomotive ‘Pioneer’ used by Maritz to try and blow up the town of Okiep in Smuts’ absence (right).
Smuts’ disposition to treating treasonous, rebellious and insubordinate Boer commanders with ‘kid’s gloves’ in the hopes of placating and consolidating their views to see his way on things would be Smuts’ greatest ‘Achilles heel’ – as there would be no such quarter given in the way they would view or treat him in future. Which brings us to the next instance – The Boer revolt of 1914.
Much has been written on the Boer Revolt of 1914, but let’s understand the ‘differing’ view between Smuts and Maritz in the lead up and then the instigation of the revolt itself. Where Smuts was involved in negotiating the Peace at Vereeniging to end the Boer War in 1902, Maritz as part of his leader element would have none of it. When peace was made, the burghers of the erstwhile Republics were obliged to lay down their arms and sign an oath of allegiance to the British monarch – Maritz refused and instead he slipped over the border into German South West Africa (modern Namibia).
In German South West Africa (GSWA), Maritz would become embroiled in another massacre, this time the Hereto and Namaqua genocide – which as irony goes it is the first recorded case of Germans using the concentration camp system along with the resultant mass death (something ignored by both Hermann Göring and Adolf Hitler when they solely laid the blame on the British for “inventing” concentration camps and the “Genocide” of the Boers – in their book white deaths count, black deaths don’t seem to count – and these two criminals were are also happy to try and deflect Germany’s real crimes of genocide).
Returning to South Africa by sneaking back over the border, Maritz is briefly arrested in the British Colony of the Transvaal for not signing the oath of allegiance (and therefore still a combatant) – it’s a forewarning of a general dislike of his deep-seated dislike of the British. He is ultimately released and joins up again as a Transvaal Policeman again.
Smuts on the other hand at this time in 1909 is concerning himself with Union, the Union conference on the back of the Peace of Vereeniging specifies an expanded Union border to incorporate Britain’s Southern Rhodesia colony as a 5th Province along with the incorporation of the British protectorates of Bechuanaland (Botswana), Lesotho and Swaziland. By doing this the Boer and the Brits agreed ‘Union’ negotiations are hoping to gain balance and reconciliation between Boer and Brit interests in the region, although now all under the “British family of nations” as specified in the Vereeniging Peace Treaty – Jan Smuts, Louis Botha and all the other significant Boer Generals – De la Rey, Hertzog etc are all consolidating to ensure this new ‘Union’ is managed by the Boers and not the Brits, which is in fact the subsequent outcome when The Union of South Africa is formed in 1910 – the South African Party, consisting of Botha, Smuts, De la Rey, Hertzog etc. win the majority seats.
Image: The borders of ‘Greater South Africa’ as outlined in the Union conference in 1909 – phase one – the Limpopo River marks the border of South Africa, phase two – Zambezi River marks the border and phase three – the Ruvuma River marks the border, this is Smuts’ map, note his personal notations ‘A’ and ‘B’.
The arrival of World War 1 in 1914 is both a blessing and a curse for the Boer led government of the newly formed Union of South Africa. Both Botha as Prime Minister and Smuts as his ‘right hand man’ were walking a tight rope – as Boer commanders they represented a faction of the new “Union”, balancing the two small old Boer Republic’s politics and laws with those of all the British colonies and protectorates surrounding them (six large British territories and their interests in them in effect) – so they are obliged to support Britain as the major player in the region, and honour their word to them, the oath that brought about peace – that’s the ‘curse’.
The ‘blessing’ to the Union government is that the war presents them with an ideal opportunity to realise the expansive border of ‘Greater South Africa’ as envisioned and concluded in the Union conference in 1909 – as this border also specifies the eventual inclusion of German South West Africa into South Africa in the first phase of the ‘Greater’ South Arica Union and eventually even German East Africa would be included in the second phase of South Africa’s territorial advancement.
So it’s really no surprise, that when the decision to go to war is put to the vote in the Boer led and very independent Union of South Africa parliament (at Union, Britain takes a figurehead role, the South African Union’s Parliament and legal construct is not governed by Westminster, its fee to make its own laws) – and the result is not what your school history teacher plugged – it’s a staggering vote of confidence by nearly all the Boer MP’s favouring going to war alongside Britain (and France) against Germany, by a landslide – literally. Consider the result.
92 = For invasion of German South West Africa by the Union of South Africa
12 = Against
So, as to the ‘majority’ of Afrikaners NOT wanting war with Germany, that is simply untrue, the Afrikaner community’s representatives in Parliament were overwhelmingly in favour of war against Germany. This is also where some ‘Boer Romantic’ commentators on the 1914 Revolt make a fundamental mistake, the Union of South Africa’s decision to conquer German South West Africa (Namibia) was NOT just a service to the ‘British Empire’ – it was largely in service to the objects of The Union of South Africa and its own territorial expansion ambitions and the prescribed ‘sphere of influence’ over the Southern African region as a whole (as agreed by all Boer and British leaders involved in the Union conference in 1909).
Image: Political cartoon of the day captures the Union’s territorial ambitions
Smuts, as the Minister of Defence at this time had also been busy amalgamating the armed forces of the republics with those of the colonial citizen force regiments to form the Union Defence Force i.e. the UDF (in much the same way as the SADF was amalgamated with other forces in 1994 to form the SANDF – with the same challenges).
The UDF had taken shape to consist of a small contingent of permanent force, but the backbone would remain voluntarily forces in a two-stream approach, the voluntary ‘English’ colonial citizen force regiments – Transvaal Scottish, Royal Natal Carbineers, Royal Durban Light Infantry etc and the voluntary ‘Afrikaans’ citizen force “skiet” Commandos known as the ‘Rifle Association Mounted Infantry’ in parallel to them (the old Republic’s commando system in effect). It was a careful construct to keep everyone happy, but the point is this, it was NOT “British” – Imperial British troops had returned to the United Kingdom, any engagement the Union of South Africa was going to fight in World War 1 in Africa, whether foreign or domestic, was going to be made up of ‘South Africans’ and led by ‘South Africans’ – and commanded by the old Republic’s ‘Bittereinder’ Boer Generals – primarily Botha (as Prime Minister was Commander in Chief) and Smuts (as Botha’s Minister of Defence).
Smuts was sensitive to the fact that many Afrikaners shared German heritage and they (falsely) believed that Germany extensively supported the Boer cause during Boer War 2 – ‘falsely’ because in fact, Germany was happy to ‘sell’ them arms (as did the British arms manufacturers) at a premium and send some medical assistance later on, however Germany withdrew their support officially – they provided no troops and no substantial funding to the Republican Boer War effort whatsoever.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, although sending a letter to Kruger congratulating him on the Jameson Raid victory (given the Boer nation their false sense of ‘support’), in fact refused point blank to receive any Boer representations and after the ‘Black Week’ British defeats to the Boers in late 1899, he and his Generals compiled a military strategy, not to help the Boers, but to help the British win the war (he was after all related to the British monarchy – part of the family so to speak) and shared it with them instead – Kaiser Wilhelm II even proudly proclaiming at the end of the Boer War that the British had followed his plan precisely as he had outlined it to them and it was the German plan that won the war for the British – not Field Marshal Frederick Robert’s plan and as inconvenient truths go the Kaiser’s plan involved scorched earth policies. (see: John C.G. Röhl: The Kaiser and England during the Boer War). Now, I bet none of this was in your Nationalistic inspired history teachings.
Ethnic Germans (local and foreign) volunteering to join Boer Commandos also qualified very few (550 odd) – far more Anglo-Irish, Dutch and Flemish joined the Boers (5,500 odd). A Boer leader delegation, including Botha and de Wet visited Germany after the war in 1902, and although they received a royal welcome and ovations, they were not officially received – they did raise a little money from private donators and a Boer help fund, but that’s it. However, all this still did not resonate with many in the Boer community who almost illogically saw Germany as an Ally.
Smuts would argue the case for war, not on the basis of warring against Germany on the side of ‘Britain’, but for supporting the other old Boer Republic’s supporters – France, Belgium and the Netherlands in their war against a hostile and aggressive Germany busy de-stabilising western and eastern Europe, and Smuts was very aware of the vast majority of Boers had Dutch, Belgian and French roots, as opposed to the ones with German roots. He would use the same argument again for his deflation of war against Germany in World War 2.
Smuts however anticipated that the decision to go to war, although largely supported by the Afrikaner political elite and leadership, would have with it a handful of resignations from the Union’s Defence Force from those strongly in favour of Germany and whose sheer hatred of the British superseded everything, and the Union government received exactly that – a “handful” – nothing that would fundamentally compromise the UDF’s fighting ability or construct.
Of the handful of resignations which were received, a rather long-winded one came from General Christiaan Beyers, the UDF’s Commandant General in charge of the Active Citizen Force and his was the most important resignation. Prior to the decision to go to war, Smuts and Botha’s old friend and highly respected comrade, General Koos de la Rey had been one of the handful of Parliamentary Ministers vocally against the decision to invade GSWA and advocated neutrality, and because of his popularity his opinion held massive sway over the old Boer Republic’s Afrikaner electorate – nevertheless he was persuaded by Louis Botha and Jan Smuts not to take actions which may arouse the Boers, he then held a political rally for 800 Boers and took a reconciliatory approach – contrary to what the attendees expected of him.
Images: General Christiaan Frederik Beyers (left) and General Jacobus Herculaas de la Rey (right)
De la Rey seemed torn over his decision, and he was then targeted by General Beyers to join him for meeting with Major Jan Kemp, a mid-line UDF officer who had also resigned – the purpose of the meeting; Beyers and Kemp wanted to persuade de la Rey to take a stronger stand and initiate more Union Defence Force resignations to compromise its fighting capability. Joining the conspiracy was another heavy weight – the significant Boer General and Parliamentary Minister, Christiaan de Wet.
What follows next is well documented, however the generally accepted and investigated history concludes; General De la Rey and General Beyers were travelling in a soft top sedan car to their meeting with Major Kemp and did not stop at a Police blockade set up to capture a notorious gang of robbers and murderers called The Foster Gang. One of the Policeman fired a warning shot into the road to get them to stop, the bullet ricocheted and hit De la Rey, killing him.
It was tragedy – plain and simple, and both Botha and Smuts were devasted at the loss of their friend, as a signal to the inevitable accusations of ‘political assassination’ both Botha and Smuts attended De la Rey’s funeral in front of thousands of mourning Boers, they appeared without any bodyguard at the mercy of the assembly – a token of no malice intended, and there were no protests or accusations from the mourners.
Regardless, despite sound and tested enquiries and court cases, and the Nationalists having full scope and the resources at hand for 40 years to uncover a ‘plot’ – no concrete proof has emerged of a plot by Smuts to kill Del la Rey whatsoever – ‘conspiracy theory’ nevertheless grew out of the incident which would plague Smuts in future years, and it still does.
It is also generally understood that with the death of De La Rey, that would probably have been the extent of Boer resistance to the war, and it would have devolved into simple political protest and peaceful demonstrations, had it not been for one man … the subject of the differing view – none other than Lt. Colonel Manie Maritz, who by now had joined the UDF and commanded a small UDF force at Upington, near the border with German South West Africa (GSWA).
The day after de la Rey’s funeral, Kemp, Beyers and de Wet addressed a large crowd at Lichtenberg, calling on protest meetings against the decision to invade GSWA. Manie Maritz however took a more robust position than Kemp, Beyers and de Wet, he instead went into open sedition and started ignoring Smuts’ and his other Commander’s orders been sent to him. Intel told Smuts that Maritz had joined the Germans, however contradictory to Smuts’ usual manner of decisiveness, he vacillated instead hoping to persuade Maritz not to revolt and get him to see reason.
Images: General Christiaan Rudolf de Wet (left) and Major Jan Christoffel Greyling Kemp (right) in his UDF dress uniform.
Not dissuaded by Smuts and bent on a sedition, Maritz resigned his commission from the Union Defence Force and openly rebelled on 9 October, taking 300 odd of his UDF soldiers with him when he went over to the Germans.
Major Barend ‘Ben’ Bouwer was sent to deal with Maritz’ sedition and insubordination (Bouwer had also been a ‘Veggeneraal’ in Smuts’ commando during the Boer War and as irony goes was alongside Maritz when he sent the dynamite train into O’okiep). Maritz took Bouwer prisoner along with his fellow officers, he was subsequently released and sent back with the ultimatum from Maritz to the Union Government to the effect that:
That unless the Union Government guaranteed safe passage of his fellow plotting Generals (De Wet, Beyers, Kemp et al), to his position on the GSWA border by the 11th October he would immediately attack General Brits’s UDF forces preparing to invade GSWA and then he would invade the Union of South Africa.
Major Ben Bouwer reported that Maritz was in possession of some guns belonging to the Germans, and that he held the rank of General commanding the German troops. He also had a force of Germans under him in addition to his own rebel commando. Maritz arrested all the UDF officers and men under his command who were unwilling to join the Germans, and then sent them forward as prisoners into German South West Africa.
To drive Maritz’ point home, Major Bouwer was shown an agreement between Maritz and the Governor of German South West Africa guaranteeing the independence of the Union as a Republic, ceding Walfish Bay and certain other portions of the Union to the Germans, and undertaking that the Germans would only invade the Union on the invitation of Maritz.
Major Bouwer was shown numerous telegrams and helio messages dating back to the beginning of September. Maritz boasted that he had ample guns, rifles, ammunition, and money from the Germans, and that he would overrun the whole of South Africa.
In response to Maritz’ action and ultimatum, on 12 October, the Union government imposed martial law across the whole of South Africa. On proclaiming martial law, Smuts, the eternal reconciler, immediately called again for “reason” and urged the rebels not to be swayed by “foreign agents influencing them”.
The ‘Maritz Revolt’ as it would now become known was underway, and with their sedition hand now played by Maritz in the Cape Colony, his fellow conspirators – Beyers, Kemp and de Wet had no choice, now ‘in for a penny and in for a pound’ they all broke their ties with the Union Defence Force, resigned their commissions and went into open revolt against their lawfully elected government – raising Commando’s in the Transvaal and Orange Free State to come to Maritz’ aid
The revolt is well documented and carries with it a number of consequences for Jan Smuts, and we will cover these in future Observation Post articles called “Boer War 3 and Beyond” and “What about Jopie?” (look out for them). However, the long and short of it from a military historian’s perspective let’s look briefly look at the objective, the capability and strategy to achieve the objective and the outcome.
The stated objective: Maritz issued a proclamation by way of objective – “the former South African Republic and Orange Free State as well as the Cape Province and Natal are proclaimed free from British control and independent, and every White inhabitant of the mentioned areas, of whatever nationality, are hereby called upon to take their weapons in their hands and realize the long-cherished ideal of a Free and Independent South Africa.”
In other words, to take by force, the former British Colonies and re-start the Boer War, resistance to the declaration by any “white” in the entire Union of South Africa would be treated by Maritz’ Provisional Government as treasonous.
Capability: To attain this objective, the Rebels raised 11,476 Boers. Union Defence Force strength was around 32,000 troops (so in essence the Rebels were outnumbered 3 to 1). Important to note here that of the 32,000 UDF troops, 20,000 were Afrikaners – mainly ex-Commando and most of them in the UDF’s mounted infantry ‘Rifle Associations’ (the old Commandos). General Louis Botha would primarily use the Rifle Associations to counteract the rebellion, insistent that the British ‘stay out of it’, this was going to be the Boer leaders sorting their differences out between themselves – so ‘Brother against Brother’ and in effect the UDF’s Afrikaners outnumbered the rebel Afrikaners 2 to 1.
Images: General Smuts (left) and General Botha (right) as depicted on cigarette cards during WW1.
Important also to note here as to capability, the Rebel force was not made up entirely of first rate ex-UDF soldiers going against their counterparts, the rebel force was made up primarily of destitute Orange Free State Boers having come through a drought and agricultural reforms on the back of the devastation of their farms during Boer War 2.
Many of these Free State Boers as has been pointed out by historians like Sandra Swart (Desperate Men: The 1914 Rebellion and the Polities of Poverty’ in South African Historical Journal, Vol 42) and John Bottomly (The Orange Free State and the Rebellion of 1914: the influence of industrialisation, poverty and poor whitism: pages 29-73), were simply desperate ‘Bywoners’ (landless farmers or share-croppers) promised a better life if the rebellion was successful.
Consider the statistics of the Boer rebels and from where they came, and you’ll see how the above statement holds true. 7,123 (62%) of the Boer Rebels came from the Orange Free State – the least populace, most rural and economically worse off province in the Union. As an aside, to gauge the extent of success of Maritz’ proclamation and its resonance across the broader Afrikaner community across the whole of South Africa, he was only able to motivate 1,215 (12%) of the Boer Rebels from the Cape province – the biggest province in the Union. The balance coming from the Transvaal, and no real support from Natal.
The Potchefstroom Herald at the time best tried to explain why there was no traction behind the revolt from Cape Afrikaners and the black/brown African communities in this quote – and not surprisingly it boils down to the lack of suffrage and plain racism in the old Republics;
“When these high officers of the Defence Force in Transvaal and Orange “Free” State rebelled and joined the Germans with their commandos, the Dutchmen of the Cape (presumably because “they vote side by side with the Kafirs”) denounced the treachery in unmistakable terms. The South African party at the Cape beat up its followers to the support of the Government, and the voice of the Cape section of the Dutch Reformed Church rang from pulpit and platform in denunciation of disloyalty and treason. But in the Northern Provinces, where white men are pampered and guarded by the Government against the so-called humiliation of allowing native taxpayers to vote, there the rebellion, having been regarded with seeming approval, gained a marvellous impetus.Plaatjie: The Boer Rebellion – snippet from the Potchefstroom Herald
As a unified, coherent, trained and fully armed force, the Rebel Boers were not. Desperate and landless farmers in the main up against fully trained, motivated, even mechanised in some instances, and properly armed UDF soldiers on a 3:1 numerical advantage – the Rebels were no match and it quickly showed. The long and short the rebellion was almost immediately repelled and then very quickly crushed as Botha’s UDF Rifle Associations with some Regiment elements in support hunted the Rebel Commandos down as they tried to make their way to assist Maritz on the GSWA border.
Image: The last pursuit of Major Kemp. A South African Union ‘Flying column’ crossing the Orange River after him.
As Dr David Katz in his work ‘General Jan Smuts and his First World War in Africa 1914 -1917) points out. Jan Smuts, eternally the one Boer General keeping a level head and seeking reconciliation and understanding, and when it was clear the rebellion had failed, Smuts called for a ‘Blanket Amnesty’ across the board for the Boer Rebel leaders and their troops if they laid down their arms. General Louis Botha, the Commander in Chief, on the other hand took a much harder and less reconciliatory line than his colleague Smuts – Botha agreed to an Amnesty, but for the rank and file only, the Boer Rebel leaders would have to be prosecuted. The amnesty, excluding the Rebel leadership, was in put place from 12th to 21st November 1914, and with it the 1914 Boer Rebellion was effectively over, by the end of November General de Wet’s force alone was down to only 40 men. Rear actions and isolated and desperate battles continued to be fought for a couple of months by woefully under-strength hard liners refusing surrender and amnesty, but by the end of January 1915 the rebellion was over.
Of the Rebel leadership now having surrendered, Botha and Smuts would again be especially magnanimous, considering the Union was in a state of war externally and in a state of martial law internally – and this was 1914 ‘World War 1’ – people were put in front of firing squads for ‘cowardice’ and being AWOL (absent without leave) – let alone ‘sedition’ and ‘treason’. Smuts would treat the Rebels in general very kindly, literally with kid gloves, all the time urging reason, understanding and reconciliation.
Of the main rebel leaders, General Christiaan Beyers tragically drowned in the Vaal River whilst attempting to desperately evade capture on 8th December 1914.
General Christiaan de Wet was captured during the amnesty and sentenced to six years imprisonment, with a fine of £2000, he was released by Botha and Smuts after one year’s imprisonment, after giving a written promise to take no further part in politics.
Major Jan Kemp was captured on the 2nd of February 1915 and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, with a fine of £1000. However, a mere 10 months into his sentence Botha and Smuts agreed to release him – also on the condition that he may not participate in any politics (a promise Kemp almost immediately broke entering politics as a National Party MP under Hertzog in 1920 and again under Malan’s ‘Reformed’ National Party after 1948).
Lt. Colonel Marie Maritz would evade capture and escape into German South West Africa, at the conclusion of the GSWA campaign and the Union Defence Force’s victory and annexation of the territory (the first real victory for the Allies against Imperial Germany in WW1), Maritz would again evade capture, going into self-imposed exile in Angola, Spain, Portugal and then Mozambique.
Of all the other leaders – junior and mid-level rebel officers who were also captured. All were sentenced to short imprisonments and fines, almost all of them walking free within a year … except for just one man … Captain Jopie Fourie was executed for ‘High Treason’ having not resigned his UDF officers commission, captured still wearing his UDF officer’s uniform and opening fire on his fellow UDF troops whilst under a ‘white flag’ of truce (this was WW1 after all and there was no way anyone could get him out of this one with a no-nonsense leader like Botha as Prime Minister, not in a month of Sundays – more on him in a later article “What about Jopie?”).
To pay for all their fines the Bloemfontein newspaper ‘Het Volksblad’ established the ‘Halfkroonfonds’ (Half-a-Crown Fund). Shop owners and other people whose property had been damaged during the rebellion were able to claim compensation, leading to the establishment of the Helpmekaar Beweging (the Help-One-Another Movement). By the end of 1917, all the debts were paid.
Of the handling of the 1914 Maritz Revolt, Louis Botha would summarise Smuts role and leadership, when he said of him;
“Nobody can appreciate sufficiently the great work General Smuts has done – greater than any man throughout this unhappy period. At his post day and night, his brilliant intellect, his calm judgement, his amazing energy and his undaunted courage have been assets of inestimable value to the Union in her hour of trial.”Prime Minister Louis Botha
As a rebellion with any chance of success consider just what a small minority they represented – no Cape Province or Natal Afrikaner would really come near it, of the Afrikaners in the Transvaal and OFS they were unable to raise an effective fighting force, the vast majority of Afrikaners in the armed forces remained in the UDF, the vast majority of Afrikaner political leaders remained behind Botha and Smuts and they gained no traction whatsoever to raise anything from the Black and Coloured communities (the real ‘vast’ majority) – no “Askari” troops whatsoever, and they got no support whatsoever from the South Africans of British decent – who by way of ‘white’ population were not insignificant in size, commanding massive swaths of population groups in the Transvaal (most of Johannesburg), Natal (most of Durban) and the Cape Colony (especially in Cape Town and the Eastern Cape) .
In the end the Maritz revolt did little in terms of its military objectives, it managed to delay the invasion plans of GSWA for a couple of months only whilst the UDF dealt with it, however in the end the GSWA campaign was a decisive victory for the Union and the territory successfully annexed under ‘Greater South Africa’ in a trusteeship – as was the Union’s expressed casus belli.
Image: General Botha (right) accepts the surrender of German South-West Africa from Lt Col Francke, (left) at Kilo, 9 July 1915.
What the Rebellion did however do was plant the seeds for political division and is one of the key propaganda tools used by the Nationalists to create the deep split in Afrikaner outlooks. Louis Botha would look at the Rebellion as complete folly, a waste of time and an utter waste of life, his opponents would look at it rather romantically instead – a sort of – ‘Boer Last Stand’. It stands today in some Afrikaner communities, precisely because of its ‘Romanticism’ and ‘political currency’ and not because of its military prowess or even its unattainable objectives.
Now, back to Maritz and Smuts, the subjects of this vastly differing outlook on Afrikanerdom, because it would manifest itself again just prior to the Second World War.
Manie Maritz decided to end his self-imposed exile after the 1st World War ended and returned to the Union of South Africa in 1923. The Smuts government treating him very kindly by way of reconciliation, and all things considered for a crime as serious as treason he received a short imprisonment of three years. Luckily for Maritz, Hertzog’s National party won the 1924 election and Maritz was granted full amnesty and walked free having only served three months.
Maritz took to farming, but came under the influence of National Socialism (Nazism) in 1936 and founded a ‘anti-parliamentary’(dictatorship led) party called the Volksparty (People’s Party) in 1940. Maritz also took control of another ultra-right, national socialist, pro-Nazi movement initially set up by Colonel J.C. Laas (the first Commandant-General of the Ossewabrandwag) called “Die Boerenasie” (The Boer Nation), he then merged the Volksparty with Die Boerenasie and continued under the “Die Boerenasie” banner. He became known as a very outspoken proponent of The Third Reich and admirer of Adolf Hitler. During this time, he had also developed a theory about the alleged Jewish conspiracy and interference in South African and world politics and became a fanatical Antisemite. He would detail his Antisemitic and National Socialist views in his autobiography ‘My Lewe en Strewe’ (My life and Aspiration) which he published in 1939, a book regarded as lacking in objectivity, inciting racial hatred and like his hero Adolf Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’ (My Struggle) Maritz’ book was full of emotional and racially driven rhetoric. He was even taken to court over all the anti-Semitic statements he made in his book, found guilty of fomenting racial hatred and he was fined £75.
Images: Maritz’ book ‘My Lewe an Sterwe’, later political portrait and the ‘Die Dappere Bloodskapper’ second world war mouthpiece for The Ossewabrandwag and Maritz’ Boerenasie.
Die Boerenasie rose to prominence under Manie Maritz, in September 1939 Jan Smuts declared war against Nazi Germany and once again you could not find a more vastly differing view than that of Smuts and Maritz. Smuts was extremely weary of the dangers of Nazism and Adolf Hitler, who he accused of being a “false messiah” and whose Nazi symbology of the Swastika Smuts called “the crooked cross” in reference to it being a corruption of true Christianity. Smuts was so anti-Nazism that he would take the Union of South Africa to war again to fight it, and once again at ‘war’ with Maritz.
On antisemitism, here again Smuts held a polarising opposite view to Maritz. Smuts was a devout Zionist, he believed in the establishment of Israel as nation state, supported Jewish immigration and refugees (even controversially as Prime Minister he was involved in rescuing 200 Jewish orphans from the ‘Pogroms’ in the Ukraine in 1921, bringing them to safety in South Africa). Smuts supported the ‘Balfour Agreement’ which gave rise to Israel, he was also a personal friend of Chaim Weizmann, the President of the Zionist Organization. Weizmann went on to become the first President of Israel. Smuts is so loved and honoured in Israel that even today a kibbutz in Ramat Yohanan is named in his honour.
It is however difficult to say if Smuts would have interned Maritz again for his Nazi sympathies along with the other strong proponents of Nazism during the 2nd World War as Maritz’ life ended tragically and very early on in the war, he died in a car accident in Pretoria on the 20th December 1940. Probably, had he lived, Smuts and Maritz would have been at extreme loggerheads and Maritz back on the warpath with the Union – and very possibly back in jail.
A completely differing outlook
So, back to the image of Smuts and Maritz on Commando during the South African War (1899-1902) a.k.a. The 2nd Boer War on the masthead. It is hard to think how Smuts and Maritz could find anything in common, and to think they are fighting side by side in common cause against the British, living hard in the bush on horseback and up to their necks in the blood and gore of war – brothers in arms in effect.
Both saw South Africa – from the “Limpopo to the Cape” – even incorporating all the surrounding British protectorates and German South West Africa in addition. Both saw ‘white civilization’ as the steward to develop the region – this was the era of ‘Empire’ after all. Both put their ‘Afrikanerdom’ front and centre and both believe sincerely that only an Afrikaner hegemony in Southern Africa would successfully unlock the region’s potential, and both were prepared to fight for it.
That’s where the similarity ends. Smuts believed the ‘Afrikaner’ led hegemony would only work with an outward, embracing and reconciliatory disposition – and with all the British protectorates, British colonies and British subjects living in ‘Greater South Africa’ in partnership … so, he saw that the future lay only with the co-operation of the British super-power as a steward protecting the region as part of Britain’s family of nations. Progress for Smuts would only lie in establishing peace and co-operation with Britain.
Maritz on the other hand believed in a similar hegemony, only he believed that South Africa would fall under the stewardship of white Afrikaners with Germany as the super-power providing the glue to keep the region stable and prosperous. He believed that the only way the troublesome ‘British’ subjects in the colonies and protectorates would be brought into line was with jack-boot authority – and Germany would provide the Afrikaners with the protection, money, military backing and arms to do so.
Maritz’s political disposition had its roots in “Krugerism” – a philosophy whereby White Afrikaners were ‘pure’ with an orthodox Calvinist ‘dopper’s’ approach to religion, through God and a theocracy styled republic they had an ordained right to rule over non-Afrikaners and Africans alike – they would have limited or no basic suffrage rights whatsoever in Kruger’s Republic. Maritz’ view so inwardly directed that he demonstrated a deep seated racist and violent response to anything “non-Aryan” (non pure). By 1939 Maritz’ Afrikaner cabal consisted of far-right wing Afrikaner nationalists with Nazi leanings – all of whom adopted or supported Nazism prior to, including and some even after the war – the likes of H.F Verwoerd, F.C Erasmus, Jaap Marais, B.J. Vorster, F.C. Erasmus, Oswald Pirow, Hendrik van den Bergh, Johannes von Moltke, P.O. Sauer, C.R. Swart, P.W. Botha, Eric Louw, Jaap Marais, Louis Weichardt, Rev. Koot Vorster, Henning Klopper, Albert Hertzog, Dr Nico Diedericks, Piet Meyer, Dr Eben Dönges, Dr Hans van Rensberg etc etc. All of whom were infusing Afrikanerdom with a heady mix of Christian Nationalism, Oligarchy Republicanism and National Socialism (Nazism).
Smuts’ political disposition on the on the other hand had it roots in “Holism” – a philosophy whereby White Afrikaners lived in an interdependent state with all the cultures and societies surrounding it, he cherished the Cape Franchise, acknowledged Black South African medieval history and although a segregationist for much of his early life, his political philosophy would focus on consolidation, reconciliation and mutual recognition. By 1939 Smuts’ had abandoned segregationist thinking altogether stating that “segregation had fallen on evil days” – his thinking had turned to universal suffrage and human rights and his Afrikaner cabal consisted of ‘left’ leaning Afrikaners with liberal suffrage and democratic leanings in the main – they were known as “Smuts-men” and they consisted of people like General Louis Botha, Kmdt Dolf ‘Oom’ de la Rey, Group Captain ‘Sailor’ Malan, General Dan Pienaar, Group Captain ‘Dutch’ Hugo, Mattheus Uys Krige, General Kenneth van der Spuy, General George Brink, Jacob Pretorius, Jan Steytler, Captain De-villiers Graaff, Pieter van der Byl, Dr Ernst Malherbe, Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr etc. etc.
A more vastly different and polarising view of Afrikanerdom you could not find – one inward and one outward.
So how does it all work out for these two vastly different views of Afrikanerdom? Well, unfortunately we all know the history, and after Smuts’ shock electoral defeat of the Nationalist Afrikaners in 1948, these Afrikaners had a free-reign with complete control of education channels and media channels coupled with ‘gagging’ powers over opposition voices – for 40 long years – in which they also took the opportunity to resurrect Manie Maritz and the ‘Boer Rebels of 1914’ as the true Afrikaner ‘heroes’ of Afrikanerdom and paint Smuts and his Smuts-men as the ‘traitors’.
The net result, sad to say, is Maritz’ view won out, Maritz would be directly responsible in his rebellion in creating a schism that would break the Afrikaner camp into two distinctive groups and continue to drive a schism through it all the way to the on-set of World War 2 and then Apartheid and beyond.
Thanks largely to leaders like Maritz and advent of the Broederbond’s ‘Centenary Trek’ in 1938 the modern Afrikaner is still seen in South Africa by most other societies in the context of a whites-only ‘Voortrekker’ (pioneer), ‘Boer’ (farmer) hegemony, sometimes with conservative and ‘racist’ leanings – which, as it happened in Maritz’ beloved Nazi Germany put the Afrikaner on the same footing as Nazi Germans in many people’s eyes after the Afrikaner nationalists formally gazetted their eugenically driven ideology of Apartheid in 1948.
The small difference, modern Germany goes to great extent to re-dress, re-educate, reconcile and consolidate their military history and political ideologies from both the 1st World War and the 2nd World War … so as to overcome the tremendous impact of propaganda and conditioning initiated by the National Socialists and ‘open’ minds to the truth. Whereas in South Africa no real deep-seated action of reconciliation, re-education and understanding has taken place to counteract the old Christian Nationalism conditioning and propaganda initiated by the Nationalists, and in many circles the likes of General Christiaan de Wet, General Christian Beyers, Major Jan Kemp, Captain Jopie Fourie, Lt. Col Manie Maritz in active sedition with Germany and eventually the likes of the other Afrikaners flirting with Germany and its ideologies, D.F. Malan, H.F. Verwoerd, B.J. Vorster and P.W. Botha are still held up fervently and sometimes illogically by some as the ‘true’ heroes of Afrikanerdom – as certainly is the case with Maritz.
In all honesty, the challenge for ‘white’ South Africans especially in reviewing, redressing, and balancing their history – and this massively different outlook initiated by the likes of Maritz and Smuts – is to better resurrect the ‘redeemable’ Afrikaners – the iconoclasts, the ones who held the opposing view to Apartheid, the ones who went to war against Imperial Germany and then again against Nazi Germany – Smuts and his ‘Smuts-men’ – NOT the ones who joined hands with Germany and its ideologies. Hold up the true ‘heroes’ to account Afrikanerdom, the ones who demanded suffrage and fought against racist oppression – and believe it or not, there is a very big pool to choose from. Their histories and ‘differing’ views where savagely repressed by the Nationalists and literally scrubbed from our national consciousness – and they need to come to light in order to affect a more balanced outlook on Afrikanerdom – as in truth when we look at it with the hindsight of history, they are really the true ‘ysters’ (heroes) and not the ‘veraaiers’ (traitors). Krugerism, National Socialism, Christian Nationalism, Apartheid and a ‘keep South Africa white’ Verwoerd Republicanism are an abhorrent testament to Afrikaner nationalism as an ideology and an anathema to Afrikanerdom itself.
Written and researched by Peter Dickens
Eben Nel; ‘Kaapse rebelle van die Hantam-karoo’
Dr David Katz; ‘General Jan Smuts and his First World War in Africa 1914 -1917’
Sandra Swart; ‘Desperate Men: The 1914 Rebellion and the Polities of Poverty’
John Bottomly; ‘The Orange Free State and the Rebellion of 1914: the influence of industrialisation, poverty and poor whitism’
André Wessels; Afrikaner (Boer) Rebellion (Union of South Africa) 2018.
Brian Bunting; ‘The Rise of the Afrikaner Reich’
John C.G. Röhl: ‘The Kaiser and England during the Boer War’
Plaatje: Chapter XXIII The Boer Rebellion
Colourised images with greatest thanks and appreciation to Jennifer Bosch – Jenny B Colourised on line:
Union to Republic: From Union to Banana Republic!
Boer War Myths: Debunking the myth that the British invented the ‘concentration camp’ and Stealing Republics, gold, diamonds and other myths!
Jan Smuts and Israeli: 200 Jewish orphans saved, the story of Jan Smuts and Issac Ochberg
Jan Smuts and Balfour: A Kibbutz called Jan Smuts