3.2.1….You’re IN! MOTH Jan Smuts

The ritual to add a new Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) member to the Order is a countdown by all MOTH present with an unanimous “You’re In”. And with that you’re a MOTH and it’s something special. So, what’s this Order all about and why Jan Smuts?

In essence it’s a British, South African, Namibian (South West African) and Zimbabwean (Rhodesian) veteran’s association, however it’s more than just a Veteran’s Association because it carries ‘ritual’ found only in Orders, and that makes the MOTH special. It’s also a special association as it’s only for ‘combat veterans’ – it was formed after World War 1, it continued through World War 2 and it continues to the present day.

The MOTH is not the oldest military veteran association, that honour belongs to The South African Legion, but it is the second oldest and pretty old at that – it was established on the 7th May 1927, as at 2022 (at the time of writing this) it celebrated its 95th birthday (and I’m honoured to have this commemoration on my blazer too). The Legion on the other hand is now over 100 years old (and I’m again a proud Legionnaire). That makes the MOTH and S.A. Legion two of a handful of surviving institutions and brands in South Africa which such longevity. Both organisations originated almost hand in glove, and they still thrive together and you can fully expect the MOTH to still be around when it turns 100. For more on the South African Legion and the roots of Remembrance in South Africa follow this link Legions and Poppies … and their South African root

So, how did the MOTH come about? It was established by returning veterans of the 1st World War 1914-18. Charles Evenden was the driving force, and sought to create an Order of combat veterans only, men who had been in the trenches and had the shared bond of combat and the harsh conditions which come with it. Of it he said the MOTH sought to sustain that “personal intimate comradeship that the front line had generated and venerated” and core ideal was to be a ‘flame of remembrance’ for those comrades killed in action – a “light” in effect which would govern three principles – True Comradeship, Sound Memory and Mutual Help.

Field Marshal Jan Smuts attending a MOTH meeting, note the Brodie Helmet ‘Tin Hat’ with the candle of remembrance on top of it. Also note, MOTH Jan Smuts’ Old Tin Hat lapel pin on his left lapel just to the right of his ribbons.

By way of ritual, a candle is placed on a 1st (and 2nd) World War Brodie Helmet as a symbol of the ‘light of remembrance’, it is lit at the opening of meetings and snuffed out by hand at the closing. The Brodie Helmet is significant to the Order, during both World Wars is was often called a ‘battle bowler’ by the British, a ‘doughboy helmet’ by the Americans and a ‘salad bowl’ by the Germans – but the name which stuck to it the most, used by both British, British Empire (WW1) and Commonwealth (WW2) troops was .. “Tin Hat”. Hence, the name of the Order – Memorable Order of Tin Hats. A small token of this helmet is worn on the left lapel by MOTH members and identifies them as such to others.

As the originator of the Order, Charles Evenden was designated the – MOTH O. Each MOTH has a designated number stemming from the beginning. Mine is 23774, there’s been a lot of MOTH influencing South African society over many years.

Now, to Jan Smuts, it would not be long before the Oubaas would find himself a MOTH, and here he is as Prime Minister receiving his countdown and Old Tin Hat label pin from none other than MOTH O. Smuts qualified as a MOTH on multiple levels, he had participated in multiple wars (3 in total) and been in multiple operational circumstances qualifying as a combat veteran on a number of levels. Not only was Smuts a MOTH, he also founded the South African Legion – and along with Winston Churchill received a gold membership status – for more on this click here Two fellow members of The South African Legion – Churchill and Smuts

MOTH O inducts MOTH Jan Smuts

By 1928, ‘Shellholes’ (MOTH Branches) named for regiments, battles, personalities and other memories of wartime service, had sprung up in Natal and the Rand, such as Majube (at Volksrust), Somme (Jeppe, Johannesburg), ‘Wizz Bangs’ (Bellvue, Johannesburg), Nurse Cavell Shell Hole in Pietermaritzburg.

Post World War 2, MOTH expanded dramatically with new ‘shellholes’, such as Winston Churchill (Cape), ‘Hellfire Corner’ (Durban), Up North (Pietermaritzburg), Tobruk (Danneshauser), Desert Rats (Johannesburg), Dan Pienaar (Johannesburg), Sidi Rezegh (Johannesburg), Steel Helmet (Johannesburg) – and many more.

Whilst some Shellholes have closed down over time, post the Angolan Border War, new Shellholes have arisen, such as Cuca (Western Cape), Pro Patria (Western Cape), Savanna (Gauteng) and many others started to spring up as old SADF Conscripts and Permanent Force members stated joining the Order.

Each Shellhole has a ‘Old Bill’ as chairman – Old Bill was a cartoon character created by Bruce Bairnfather; the archetypal British private soldier in the trenches, bemoaning his fate, with the sly and dry humour linked with the common-sense of the ‘Old Sweat Tommy.’ There is a Deputy Old Bill (sometimes known as a ‘Wee Bill’), a Paybill (the Treasurer), an Adjutant (the Secretary) and a Sergeant Major (responsible for ceremonies and bearing). Bigger Shellholes also have a Quarter Master (responsible for kit and MOTH items), some have their own Padres in addition.

Images: The Old Bill by Bruce Bairnfather – an image of him is found in nearly all MOTH Shellholes and a modern MOTH take on him.

All ‘shellholes’ were intended to be self sufficient, and expected to choose an objective or cause ‘in the interests of the wider community’. One such fine example is the Mills Bomb Shellhole, in Durban, always full of English speaking South Africans, ex-British servicemen, and Germans, from both World Wars and other conflicts.

Warriors’ Gate MOTH Shellhole, within the Old Fort in Durban, was completed in 1937, a superb building in the Cape Dutch style on a design of a Norman Keep modelled from a photograph given to Evenden by Admiral E.R.G.R.Evans “Evans of the Broke”, built by its Shellhole members, the Gate is both the spiritual HQ, and executive HQ of the MOTH movement. It also has a high quality museum and in it inner circle you will find a prized bronze bust of none other than Field Marshal Jan Smuts.

Whilst purely a South African institution, over the years ‘Shellholes’ sprung up in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Nyasaland (Malawi), South West Africa (Namibia), Swaziland and England, the scattering of the modern South African military veteran diaspora since 1994 now sees Shellholes in Ireland and New Zealand. A Cyber Shellhole (keeping with modern-times) sees MOTH members in places as far flung as  Australia, Canada, Belgium, Dubai, Indonesia, Portugal, remote areas of South Africa and the United Kingdom.

For a full list of Shelllholes to find one near you, here’s a link to the MOTH website: https://www.moth.org.za/shellholes/

Back to MOTH Jan Smuts, its important to note that the MOTH has always stressed the lack of ‘rank and swank’ within the ‘Shellholes’, to consolidate its membership across classes, ranks, generations and language. So, in the Order, Jan Smuts would not have been addressed as ‘Field Marshal’ or ‘General’, he would simply have been a MOTH, and having researched Smuts I would say he probably have enjoyed the anonymousness and plain equality – he certainly cracked a wide smile receiving his tin hat lapel pin.

Jan Smuts is important to the MOTH Order, a Shellhole, the ‘Field Marshal’ exists at his home, Smuts House in Irene (now a museum), the ‘Ouma’ Shellhole existed in honour Jan Smuts’ wife Isie who played a key role in running the wartime comforts fund for serving personnel during WW2 and even visited the combat zones. The ‘Marshal Smuts’ Shellhole exists in Somerset West (Western Cape) and annually his birthday is hosted by the ‘Majozi’ Shellhole at his birthplace in Riebeek Kasteel (Western Cape). MOTH members and veterans attending this parade drink a toast to the General from a special vat of brandy and smash the glass as a token of devotion to his memory.

Myself (representing the Legion) and fellow MOTH at the Riebeek Kasteel parade.

A further parade is hosted at the Smuts House Museum in Irene (near Pretoria) by the MOTH Shellhole there to commemorate his birthday, and the ‘Savanna’ Shellhole also hosts a Jannie Smuts parade in Johannesburg. If you visit many Shellholes there will be this or that portrait, cornerstone, plaque, statue or artefact devoted to MOTH Jan Smuts.

So important is Smuts to the MOTH, that Smuts’ letter to Charles Evenden MOTH 0 appears on the back of the dust cover of his book ‘Old Soldiers Never Die – The Story of MOTH 0’ and the quote “you built better than you knew..” General J.C.Smuts appears on the front cover.

MOTH O’s book and the Jan Smuts reference in his almost illegible handwriting on the dust cover – courtesy Stef Coetzee, whose father was a MOTH having served in WW2 and this was his.

A big contribution of the MOTH Order and Smuts’ policy of integration in the armed of forces is the bringing together of English and Afrikaans speakers. The veterans of WW2 were unique in that of the combatant veterans the ratio of English and Afrikaans speakers was almost equal. These men displayed a need for ‘respectability, and to this end the original ideal ‘Mutual Help’ was of great relevance, the post-1946 ‘Home Front’ (MOTH long standing journal) stressed constantly the need to support ex-servicemen before looking at other charities. The financial support, material contributions (food and clothing), funding for schooling and university, and the networking to find unemployed Returned Men employment were of the greatest import. The 1950’s-60’s were the great hey-day’s of the MOTH.

I just love this picture from Steyn Fourie of a MOTH Shellhole in its heyday, it just smacks of a time gone past, when everything in the ‘white culture’ in South Africa was so much more balanced and revered – the old Hertzog inspired OBB in its correct senior position (left) making the old Transvaal and Free State Afrikaans boys happy, the Union Jack making the Natal and Cape English boys happy in its correct position (right) … flags of all the Allied Nations of WW2 (USA, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even the old Russian Federation the USSR) with whom these veterans fought alongside left and right .. and presiding over it all .. the Oubaas – Jan Smuts.

By the ‘white culture’ of this old photograph, please note that this was the majority demographic of the construct of combat veterans at the time, the MOTH is open to all races, culture and sexual orientations, it does not discriminate and will accept any operationally qualified veteran regardless.

MOTH Smuts with MOTH O

However, with the dying off of the 1st World War (1914-1918) and almost all of the 2nd World War (1939-45) populace, the MOTH are a shadow of its former glory, however with the Border War (1966-1989), Operations 1990-1994 and subsequent Peacekeeping Operations, the ranks are slowly growing. Auxiliary components of the MOTH, such as the MOTHWA (MOTH Woman’s Association) are now been joined by the MOTH Motorcycle Association and the recently formed ‘Friends of the MOTH’, the strict regulations for joining are also slowly been loosened to invite more veterans to join.

Comradeship remains central to the MOTH, and long may it remain, with Shellholes regularly ‘raiding’ one another and the mirth, friendship, mischief and comradeship that comes with them – and long may raiding continue.

To the songs that are sung in MOTH Shellholes, there are two, one British from the 1st World War “Pack up your Troubles” and one American from the 2nd World War “Old Soldiers Never Die”.

To listen to Pack Up Your Troubles – click this link:

To listen to Old Soldiers Never Die – click this link:

In conclusion

I remain proud to be a MOTH and am currently the Wee Bill (Deputy Old Bill) of the Seagull Shellhole in Hermanus, I also own a brewery and it was not long before I registered ‘Old Tin Hat’ in the Beer and Spirits categories as a trademark with each one celebrating a South Africa World War 2 hero in the ‘Commando Comic’ style – Sailor Malan, Quentin Smythe VC, Lucas Majozi, Perla Gibson, Roger Bushell, Zulu Lewis and Job Maseko all get a beer expression and a nod to their wartime valour and contributions. I also remain a devout Legionnaire – something Smuts was in addition to been a MOTH, and I’m equally proud of that. The order is healthy and if you served in the old SADF or the new SANDF (or both) – as a National Serviceman, Volunteer or Permanent Force member and have a General Service Medal or Pro Patria we’d love to hear from you.

To find out about (and order on-line – shameless plug I know) Old Tin Hat Brewery beer, follow this link: https://thespiritofhermanus.com/collections/old-tin-hat


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens, with large extracts from Gordon Mackinlay’s account of the MOTH, and my deep gratitude and thanks to him for allowing me to use it.

Ouma’s Curtains

Isie Smuts and the Boer War

There is a lot to be said about South Africa’s most remarkable First Lady – Sybella (Isabelle – shortened to Isie or ‘Issie’) Margaretha Smuts, or as she was affectionally known by all – simply as .. “Ouma.” However to get a really good understanding of this petite but powerhouse of a woman, one only needs to know what she endured and did during and directly after the Boer War i.e. The South African War 1899-1902, and here one only has to look at her curtain rails – yup, simple curtain rails.

Not many know this, and its not in the official tour guide, but if you ever have the privilege to visit the humble correlated iron house that Jan and Isie Smuts lived in from 1910 in Irene, near Pretoria, now a museum – you may notice the family’s bamboo curtain rails, and they tell a story, so here goes;

Image: Bamboo curtain rails, Smuts House Museum, Irene – Picture: Peter Dickens

From the beginning of 1899 Jan Smuts was a leading legal and political figure in Kruger’s government of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek (South African Republic, ZAR or Transvaal Republic). Smuts at the time lived with his wife Isie in a house on the corner of Troye and Walker streets in Sunnyside, Pretoria.

When the Boers declared war against the British on the 11th October 1899, it was with Smuts’ invasion plans that the Boer’s invaded the British Colonies of the Cape and Natal. War proved a highly trying time for Isie Smuts, but the worst was to come when Pretoria fell a mere 9 months into the war, and Isie bid farewell to her husband the evening of 4th June 1900 as he and General Botha rode away to take the ZAR government into the field with the other Boer commanders and commence the guerrilla warfare phase of the war, leaving Pretoria open for the British to occupy.

On occupying Pretoria the British took no time to gather whatever intelligence on the Boer army that they could, and Jan Smuts’ residence came into their sights. Using her initiative, Isie Smuts tore up all Jan’s letters written to her, except his first, and stuffed the scraps of paper into a cushion. She also rolled up Jan Smuts’ key documents and plans, deemed too important to destroy and hid them inside her ‘hollow’ bamboo curtain rails.

She also took the precaution of sewing gold sovereigns Jan Smuts had left her for a emergency, into a money belt. When she saw the enemy British soldiers approaching, “she dropped the belt into the boiling water of the kitchen copper” (Women South Africa Remembers” by Fay Jaff 1975), in spite of her protests the British soldiers entered her home, but still, she gave them freshly baked bread, still warm, from her oven.

During her separation from Jan Smuts, in August 1900 their baby son ‘Koosie’ died. Isie had to bear the burden alone, she wrote to Jan so he could learn of the loss by telegram, but the message never reached him. Jan Smuts also wrote to her, but she never received any of his letters in the first year of their separation.

By the beginning of 1901, Lord Kitchener, the British Chief of Staff, ordered that Isie Smuts be moved from Pretoria to a concentration camp in Pietermaritzburg. As a special concession, because of her status as Jan Smuts’ wife, Isie Smuts was afforded a small house near the camp. Isie packed up all their belongings and household items and effectively moved under ‘house arrest’ to Pietermaritzburg. She would pass her time making ‘comforts’ such as scarves for the women interned in the nearby camp.

Purposefully cut off from the outside world by the British, under house arrest, she was tormented with constant rumour that her husband had been killed, and likewise her husband was tormented whilst fighting in the field as he had no contact with his wife.

Eventually, a year after he departed Pretoria, in June 1901 she received her first letter from her husband, her response reveals the deep levels of trauma, she wrote, “I have read it and reread it so often that I know almost the whole by heart, and now I shall be able to live on those loving words for the many weary weeks to come . . .”

By special arrangement, Isie and Jan were allowed to see each other for a mere 24 hours in Standerton during a pause in the fighting. Isie was very ill at the time, war had taken a toll on her, she was prone to severe bouts of fatique and she weighed about 45kg. Her physical state distressed her husband, so he wrote to Lord Kitchener asking for permission to send her to Stellenbosch where her family could care for her, but his request was refused.

The couple were re-united some time after the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31st May 1902. Smuts urgently needed to go to the Cape Colony after the Peace was concluded to convince the acting Prime Minister, Thomas Graham to treat returning Cape Rebels fairly. On his return from Cape Town, Jan stopped in Pieter­maritzburg to see his wife and reassure himself that her health was improving. Their minds were put to rest by Doctors who said she would be well enough in 6 weeks to travel back to Pretoria. Smuts went ahead to re-claim his home which had been occupied by British Imperial Yeomanry during the war.

Between May 1902 and 1910, before Jan Smuts finally re-settled the family at Irene, the Smuts’ went about re-building their lives and having children. Isie Smuts was very understandably anti-British, given her treatment by them and her witness to the camps. She insisted on a Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek ‘ZAR’ Vierkleur (Four Colour) National Flag be present at each child’s birth, so they would be born under it and not under the occupier’s British Union Jack. In all, her first children were born when the ZAR existed as an independent Republic and she ensured all her remaining children when born, would be born under the Vierkleur (not a lot of people know this either – it’s not in mainstream accounts of the Smuts’ history). Not many people know this too, but according to the family, Jan Smuts, not surprisingly considering his experience of the war, also personally harboured a similar deep disregard for the British at this time.

Picture: The Smuts family at this time, superbly colourised by Jennifer Bosch

Isie’s Anglophobia did not stop there, she was totally anti-British, and openly hostile toward them. She even went so far as to stick stamps deliberately upside down on her letters, so as to make the King stand on his head. It was much later when Lord Paul Methuen, the Officer Commanding-in-Chief in South Africa, convinced her that the British were not all bad, he helped her overcome her prejudices to eventually support her husband in his efforts to reconcile the English and Afrikaner “races” to achieve peace, stability and ‘Union’ in South Africa.

Jan Smuts would also tease her and say she would be “punished” if any of her children married a Brit in the future, which ironically several of the Smuts children did, either marrying into wholly British or half English descendants. Isie’s future would see her rise to one of the most loved people in South Africa – English and Afrikaner alike – and she hit her stride during World War 2, during Jan Smuts’ second Prime Ministership, when she headed up the wartime ‘The Gifts and Comforts Fund’ in support of the men and women from South Africa fighting in the war, even visiting them in the combat zone, but that’s a remarkable story for another day.

In South Africa, one can still find people who swallowed Smuts’ political detractors rhetoric and will say that by reconciling with the British, he did not suffer or fully understand the indignity of the concentration camps. Utter poppycock, one only has to look at the fact that he not only lost family, he nearly lost his wife, such was his conviction to get a better peace for his countrymen by engaging guerrilla war tactics and becoming a ‘Bitter-einder’ in war already hopelessly lost. Of his reasoning for enduring the ‘Bitter-einder’ campaign Jan Smuts said “… two years more of war, the utter destruction of both Republics, losses in life and treasure … Aye, but it meant that every Boer, every child to be born in South Africa, was to have a prouder self-respect and a more erect carriage before the nations of the world.”

The journey for both Jan and Isie to overcome their hatred for the British and reconcile with them in 1910 for the good of all South Africans is one of the most generous and forgiving acts ever seen in South Africa, it was only seen again in 1994 when Nelson Mandela did the same (although the same could not be said of his wife).

Jan Smuts famously said “history writes the word ‘reconciliation’ over all her quarrels” and to anyone visiting the Smuts museum in future, look up at the simple curtain rails, and remember the courage of an ‘Ystervrou’ (iron woman) who endured during a highly destructive war, literally crippling her people and her remarkable journey to reconciliation with the enemy to the benefit of all.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.

With grateful assistance from Philip Weyers (Jan Smuts’ Grandson) and the Jan Smuts Foundation and family. Large reference and thanks to “Women South Africa Remembers” by Fay Jaff (1975). Also, with much thanks and gratitude to Jenny B Colourisation. Photos below – Smuts House Museum in Irene, the author and his wife with Philip Weyers.

“God’s will”

I’ve recently looked at the ideology of Afrikanerdom, after taking some criticism for ‘bashing’ a small but very vocal sect of anti-Smuts Afrikaners (some even in my own family). I’ve contested that they do not epitomise Afrikanerdom but seem to think they do. It’s a complex subject, as ‘Afrikanerdom’ is as white as it is black, but bear with me.

When it comes to the ‘Boer War’ (The South African War 1899-1902), there are two very hotly debated areas, both ‘shape’ Afrikanerdom – certainly in the white sense of it. The first is the idea of the “Bitter-Einder” (the Bitter Enders), the group of Afrikaners who painfully decided to continue the war on ‘guerrilla principles’ after the ‘conventional phase’ ended and Pretoria fell. Some historians point to these guerrillas as having brought the catastrophe of the concentration camps and the scorched earth farm buring policy on themselves – they’re to blame as the British had little choice. Little is really understood as to ‘why’ they continued the fight, as the fight was clearly lost – sheer madness the only conclusion. But, it’s in the ‘why’ that we find Afrikanerdom.

The second hotly debated subject is Jan Smuts, his impact to South African politics and ‘Afrikaner’ identity spans 6 decades, no other ‘Afrikaner’ can hold a flame to it. His detractors fall on old National Party propaganda and political smearing and old family folklore to paint him as ‘turning British’ for reconciling the warring British and Boer races (and by some strange leap in logic some also point to him as responsible for the concentration camps). Little time is given to actually reading what Smuts said or wrote and a strange almost belligerent hatred overrides all reason.

Sir Winston Churchill said of Smuts that “He fought for his own country; he thought for the whole world.” by that he meant Smuts remained an Afrikaner patriot for one but also philosophised for all mankind. Churchill’s long time admiration for Smuts also lay in his abilities as one of the few successful Bitter-Einder Boer Generals, not in a need for him to identify as somehow British. Smuts’ context of Afrikanerdom is found in his justification for being a Bitter-Einder’ and there is nothing better to understand his mind and to understand the ground zero of 20th century ‘Afrikanerdom’ and the modern white Afrikaner psyche than to read what Smuts himself puts down.

What follows are some extracts .. they are well worth the read, and anyone who walks away from reading this still thinks that Jan Smuts is somehow ‘English’ needs their brain replaced – for they have never taken the time to read what the man actually wrote. Here’s an Afrikaner at heart – simple.

Image: General Jan Smuts (seated centre) with his Commando, colourised by Tinus Le Roux

This is a letter, written to W.T. Stead by Jan by Smuts whilst in the field with his commando at Vanrhynsdorp on 4 January 1902 (Source: Published from his private papers by Hancock and van der Poel) – it covers some excerpts as the full content is too long to publish here, but they more than adequately make the point.

“I know the difficulty of the modern man of action and intelligence, accustomed as he is to ideas of natural laws and physical or economical explanations of all phenomena, to understand or appreciate the tremendous force of faith in the affairs of the world, but unless he overcomes this difficulty the present war will, in all essential respects, remain for him an insoluble mystery. A mustard seed of real faith avails more in the affairs of the world than mountains of might or brute force – and only he who thoroughly understands this will be able to appreciate the true inwardness of the present struggle.

The condition of the two South African Republics in very truth baffles description. Not William the Conquerer himself created a more complete desert between the Tyne and the Humber in the eleventh century than Lord Kitchener has created in the twentieth. All living animals – horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, fowls, even dogs, have been killed, and generally in a manner too shocking to relate. More than once I set my commandos to kill the poor brutes which had been maimed by the British soldiery and then left by them to slow death and starvation; even four or five days after atrocities had been committed one would find these poor dumb brutes writhing in pain, and struggling and bleating for water and food among the dead. I have seen strong and brave men with tears in their eyes – totally overcome by the sight of this horrible suffering.

To me the saddest sight in this war has been the sufferings which women and children have endured to escape capture by the British columns. Like wild beasts they have been everywhere hunted out with Lee-Metford and Maxim and consigned to the death-in-life of the camps. For these reasons the brave Boer women have endured hardships and undergone privations such as one only reads of in the ancient records of Christian martyrdom. ‘They were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth’. (Hebrews XI: 37,38).

I do not ask what rules of international law sanction this rapine and ruin. I only state it as a fact – as a fact which I have seen with my own eyes and which is beyond all manner or doubt or dispute: quaeque ipse vidi et quorum pars magna fui. No wonder that for many burghers the state of their desolate country has become a sight too painful to bear; no wonder they prefer to continue the war beyond its borders.

The British military authorities adopted a policy of devastation and of treating non-combatant women and children as prisoners of war. They expected the Boers to quail before the absolute destruction of their property and the sufferings of their women and children. The said military authorities , however, made one fatal error in their calculations-an error which they will continue to make to the very end of the war. They had learnt in the case of all the tribes that with which they had come in contact during recent generations that one big defeat, followed by the burning of their chief town or kraal and the raiding of their cattle , was sufficient to utterly cow and prostrate them. And so they expected from the despised Boer. But the policy of spoliation and the infliction of suffering on non-combatants – so far from producing the expected result – had exactly the opposite effect. It raised the spirit of the Boers; it sent the iron deeper into the soul; that the God of Battles might not be with them yet the Spirit that dies not quench the smoking flax nor bruise the broken reed was with them to strengthen and sustain.

A second important consequence of this policy of spoliation has been the elimination from the Boer ranks of all those elements which are useless from a military point of view. The ordeal has been too terrible for the weak and the faint. First of all went the irresponsible braggarts who had clamoured for war and had called the peacemakers cowards and traitors. The man who expected to gain something from continuing in the field; the man who preferred to protect his property; the man who had lost all hope of a successful issue followed. There remain the stout-hearted and able-bodied – the men of physical courage, the men of moral endurance, whom self-respect and honour keep true to their country’s cause; the men of invincible hope in the future and child-like faith in God – truly a select band, the like of whom, I fondly think, is not to be found in the wide world today.

And these are the men whom Mr. Chamberlain, standing in the House of Commons, does not shrink from classifying as brigands and ruffians. These are the men against whom the High Commissioner (Milner) has the infantile audacity to hurl his proclamation of permanent banishment and universal confiscation.

‘How long is this war still going to last’ is the question asked by almost every Englishman who meets a Boer. The English are evidently weary and tired to death of the whole business. And no wonder, for their feeling of racial revenge must be pretty well satiated after the ruin and sorrows in which the Boers have been involved. For every thinking Briton, even the most hostile to the Boers, must feel in his heart of hearts, that this sorry business has added no glory and never will add any glory to the Empire – no military glory, for the odds were too uneven; the methods resorted to by the British too shocking to the humaner feelings of mankind, and the unique tenacity of the Boers has finally come to overshadow every other feature of war; no political glory, because the issue had become one of their freedom or subjugation. And mankind reserves its lasting honour for, and award its crown of glory only to, those who have striven for the highest ideals of humanity; who have made deathless sacrifices for liberty or justice or religion; and who by heroic self-sacrifice for the highest ends have raised and ennobled the ethical consciousness of mankind. But this much is certain, that the issue of glory is against the British Empire, and that the world has only seen another proof of universal moral law that they who deliberately seek glory shall not find it.

What are the principal moral forces operative within the area of the war today? I ask the question here because only he who thoroughly appreciates their character will be able to understand the factors on which the continuance and issue of the present war depend. The flower of the Boer army …. and who to a large extent still continue in the field today, were actuated by a vaguer but profounder aspiration …. purified and deepened a hundredfold by loss and suffering and sorrow during the course of the war, remains today the most vital and vitalizing force in the Boer mind, and must be carefully studied by all who wish to understand the true conditions of the continuance and issue of the present war.

The Boers, as a people, have an extraordinary faith in God. Theirs is not a God of the mechanical type …. Theirs is a God …. rather of the type of the Hebrew prophets – …; who from and with the passions and aspirations, the good and evil deeds of men, shapes the divine policy, moulding sin and sorrow, deeds of honour and of shame, like some potter at the wheel, into the divine ends of His world-government. The barbarous measures of the enemy, which bring a blush of shame to the fair face of Christian civilization, were expected by them, for had not Scripture to be fulfilled? All these things, and even worse, were foretold by the prophets, and with patience and resignation they are prepared to bear the yoke which not so much the enemy as God has laid on them; the inhuman proclamations of Lords Kitchener and Milner were read and pondered by them in the sacred writings before they were issued in SA, and the remarkable resemblance in the procedure of the Nebuchadnezzar of prophecy and the Kitchener of our day is to them only another confirmation of their belief that this is God’s work and that the final issue will also be His. …. this remarkable faith in God and in their destiny has only become stronger; broken and bleeding they have clung all the more passionately to the great hope, praying indeed that the cup of agony might be taken away from them, but never dashing it down in impatience or despair. For the Boers feel that they are not enduring themselves, and inflicting on their loved ones, mere useless suffering, as Lord Kitchener is so fond of reminding them, but that victory will yet be theirs, and the seed now sown in sorrow and tears will be reaped by posterity as a glorious harvest in the land that is far away…

This view, which will seem strange and intelligible to matter-of-fact politicians, is today held by the bulk of the Boers in the field. The Boers fight now in a spirit akin to that of the early Christian martyrs; they listen to reports of defeat and rapine, of the suffering of their wives and children in the prison camps, with that calm resignation which springs from the assurance that such is God’s will”.

Images: Lord Kitchener’s policy of Scotched Earth, Boer farmsteads been destroyed by British and Imperial Troops.

Images: British Boer War period concentration camps, colourised by Jenny B


Researched by Peter Dickens

With much thanks to ‘Boer War Crank’ on-line. Master images of a young Jan Smuts and concentration camp children – colourised thanks to Tinus Le Roux.

Finding Smuts’ essence!

Book Review: Jan Smuts and his First World War (1914-1917) by David Brock Katz

Finally, a refreshing new look at Jan Smuts, and not a popularist novel, a proper historical treatise, so well researched it stands up to strong academic scrutiny and it will stand for some time to come.

Jan Smuts and his First World War 1914-1917 by Dr David Bock Katz is a revelation, it seeks out and finds Smuts’ essence in his military campaigning, not previously achieved by earlier historians.

It can often be said of Jan Smuts, that a Canadian student will have a better understanding of the man than a South African one. That is because Smuts has been vilified in his own country by an endless tirade of politically driven one-upmanship whether it be from far right or the far left of the political spectrum, an unabated tirade, especially from a very small but very vocal white Afrikaner right fuelled with propaganda and unhinged over the Apartheid epoch. Whereas internationally he is seen as a champion of global peace post both World Wars and a founder of the United Nations, he still stands on Parliament Square in London and in Canada even a mountain is named after him. 

The political quagmire surrounding Smuts makes a new study of Smuts very difficult, the historian must ‘peel the onion’ and discard all the politically inspirated bias. Bill Nasson, one of South Africa’s most respected historians said the only way for us to understand Jan Smuts is to understand what he amounted to and to define Smuts’ essence, i.e., get to what he is all about, what made him tick and identify what he was always striving toward. Happy to report that Dr David Katz in his new book on Jan Smuts and his First World War 1914–1917 does exactly that.

Smuts was born and lived in an era of colonial expansionism, an era where Imperialism was normative and in fact a value for which European’s fought over in great life and death struggles, in Europe and across the Globe. David Katz examines Smuts in his context and removes the urge to suddenly apply a modern critical race theory bias. In doing this Katz gets to the essence of the man. He does this by drawing attention to Smuts’ plans for a ‘Greater South Africa’ one in which South Africa’s borders are drawn as high as the equator including south Angola, bits of modern day Central African Republic and the entire states of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. This idea of ‘sphere of influence’ whether under the control of an Afrikaner or a British ideal on the back of conquest and expansion, is central to ‘white’ politics of Southern Africa, pre and post The South African War (1899-1902).  

A ‘man of his time’, Smuts’ philosophy of holism, basically the sum (union) of parts is greater than the whole, drives Smuts’ ideal for the union of nation states, not only South Africa as we know it, but also Southern Africa with his plans of a ‘Greater South Africa’, his concept of ‘union’ eventually extends globally with the establishment of the British Commonwealth, the League of Nations and its modern-day manifestation, the United Nations. Here, as David Katz shows extensively and rather refreshingly in his work, we see the true ‘essence’ of Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, South Africa’s most decorated General.

It also gives us the context for the Union of South Africa’s eagerness to move its borders northwards, the First World War provided both Louis Botha and Jan Smuts with the ideal vehicle, starting with the German South West African campaign (GSWA) and then the German East Africa campaign (GEA).

In these campaigns David Katz starts to shake up some preconceived beliefs about Smuts’ abilities as a General, detailing and outlining his abilities to strategise outcomes and also his ability to tactically apply them. Many commentators and historians chose to highly criticise Smuts, but usually in the context of political expediency, both in the United Kingdom and in South Africa, but here Katz exposes their ‘bias’ and even at times exposes some blatant mistruths previously held up as fact, he does this by examining the ‘primary documentation’, the boring, dusty, daunting, and rather vital extensive archives – here in South Africa and in the United Kingdom. In this primary documentation, without a political agenda, he finds the real Smuts, a true reflection of the military strategist and field commander. David’s work in this respect is extensive, it was the backbone of his Doctorate in Military History (cum laude), and it shows. 

It is almost impossible to write a ‘complete’ history on Smuts in a single book, he was a man who dominated South African politics from 1890 to 1950, seven decades which see a man and his outlook change over time along with changing world orders and philosophies of governance and even warfare. This can make the subject of Smuts extremely daunting, and even impossible – where do you start, Smuts the academic, the philosopher, the botanist, the lawyer, the author, the politician, the stateman, the peacemaker, the privy councillor and finally Smuts the miliary General? 

It is with some relief that David Katz hones in on only one aspect, Smuts’ First World War, it gives him the opportunity to really challenge Smuts in one sector of his life, the outcome of which is a detailed account of this one facet which reaches completely new conclusions and views.

Rightly in establishing a view on Smuts’ Generalship in World War 1, Katz also looks at the root of Smuts’ abilities as a General, forged in the South African War (1899-1902) under General Koos de la Rey and General Louis Botha.  Katz then examines the complexities and challenges facing Smuts in amalgamating Colonial British and Boer Forces into a unified fighting entity and the development of a distinctively South African ‘style’ of combat fighting, a manoeuvrability ‘style’ which even our modern-day defence force still holds as a central doctrine. 

Katz also reviews the Maritz Rebellion of 1914 in its correct context, as an opening act of internal aggression in South Africa’s First World War and how it strategically and even morally affected the GSWA campaign. Also, refreshingly he focusses on the cause and effect of the revolt militarily speaking and is not guided by the political fallout and resultant bias in examining Smuts’ ability as a wartime General.

Smuts’ GEA campaign often comes in for a lot of criticism, and here Katz again applies a military mind and scours the primary source material in evaluating Smuts’ effectiveness as a General, reasoning that Smuts effectively attained his objectives, reduced casualties and delivered an Allied victory and didn’t chase General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck around aimlessly as has been suggested by past historians.

It’s a very long overdue re-assessment of Jan Smuts and his ability as a General. David Katz also wrote a book called ‘South Africans versus Rommel’ which covers Smuts in World War 2 to a degree, but we look forward to the next historical account which looks at Smuts and his Second World War 1939-1945 in its complete entity, as the next ‘bite sized’ chunk of this most extraordinary man. 

In the end, the Afrikaner National Party and their opposition rhetoric aside, we may find that when it is all added together, Smuts’ 2nd Anglo-Boer War command, his First World War command, his Second World War Command, and Smuts’ net success in all three of these wars, his structure of South Africa’s defence force and doctrine, his pioneering work on structuring air-arms, air combat and air defences, his contribution as part of the British War Cabinet and the Imperial War Cabinet during World War 1 and then again in the King’s Privy Council and as Winston Churchill’s confidant and councillor during World War 2, and even his extensive role in Operation Overlord, all concluding with his role in the establishment of the United Nations, we may very well be looking at a Afrikaner farm boy with one of the greatest military minds of the 20th Century and beyond. 

No small statement, you’ll find Jan Smuts’ fingerprints in just about every theatre of operations in the South African War (1899-1902), in the GSWA, GEA and Western Front theatres of World War 1 (1914-1918), and again in the East African, North African, Italy, Atlantic and European campaigns to conclude World War 2 (1939-1945) and in just about every major modern military development in between. Dr David Brock Katz’ book on Jan Smuts First World War (1914-1918) goes a long way to establishing a solid foundation on which to begin to challenge this conclusion or at the very least he gives Smuts a well-earned balanced perspective and insight.

By: Peter Dickens

Jan Smuts .. .. a talk with Dr. David Katz and Peter Dickens

Join me for the launch of Dr. David Brock Katz’s new book, ‘General Jan Smuts and his First World War in Africa 1914 -1917′. David will be spending a little time in my hometown, Hermanus to launch this new look at Jan Smuts’ military campaign and leadership during WW1.

We will do the launch at Romantiques in Hermanus, in their cosy little theatre. David and I have agreed to do a joint talk on Jan Smuts, David will focus on Smuts in the context of his book and I will focus on Smuts – the man and his flawed genius. In all it should be a great evening for anyone who is either a student of history or has a fascination for one of Africa’s greatest sons.

We will follow up the talk with a book signing ceremony with complimentary Beer, Wine and Canapés. As a brewery owner my Company ‘The Spirit of Hermanus’ and our beer brand ‘Old Tin Hat’ will be sponsoring, along with Jonathan Ball Publishes and the venue – Romantiques. Book Mark, the appointed retailer of the book in Hermnaus will also be on hand.

For a small fee of R40 you can also stay on for a screening of Peter Jackson’s world renowned documentary on World War 1, ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’.

For those in area who wish to attend here are the details:

Date: Friday 16th September 2022

Timings:

Arrive from 17:00 for 17:30

Talk and  Q&A from 17:30 to 18:30

Book Signing,  Beer and Wine Evening  from 18:30 to 19:30

Movie Screening ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ from 19:30 to 21:00

Venue:

Romantiques, 18A Aberdeen Street, Hermanus, South Africa

RSVP

Please call Karen Dickens, South African mobile: 067 360 9020. Alternatively e-mail: karen@thespiritofhermanus.com

Please note spaces are very limited, so be sure to book early.

Outline of the book

As to this new book and exciting look at Smuts’ Generalship during WW1 it has been described a ‘an engaging, well-written and meticulously researched military biography …’ – Tim Stapleton, Professor, Department of History, University of Calgary.

Jan Smuts grabbed the opportunity to realise his ambition of a Greater South Africa when the First World War ushered in a final scramble for Africa. He set his sights firmly northward upon the German colonies of South West Africa and East Africa. Smuts’s abilities as a general have been much denigrated by his contemporaries and later historians, but he was no armchair soldier. He first learned his soldier’s craft under General Koos de la Rey and General Louis Botha during the South African War (1899−1902). He emerged from that conflict immersed in Boer manoeuvre doctrine.

Jan Smuts grabbed the opportunity to realise his ambition of a Greater South Africa when the First World War ushered in a final scramble for Africa. He set his sights firmly northward upon the German colonies of South West Africa and East Africa. Smuts’s abilities as a general have been much denigrated by his contemporaries and later historians, but he was no armchair soldier. He first learned his soldier’s craft under General Koos de la Rey and General Louis Botha during the South African War (1899−1902). He emerged from that conflict immersed in Boer manoeuvre doctrine.

After forming the Union Defence Force in 1912, Smuts played an integral part in the German South West African campaign in 1915. Placed in command of the Allied forces in East Africa in 1916, he led a mixed bag of South Africans and imperial troops against the legendary Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his Schutztruppen. His penchant for manoeuvre warfare and mounted infantry freed most of the vast German territory from Lettow-Vorbeck’s grip.

General Jan Smuts and his First World War in Africa provides a long-overdue reassessment of Smuts’s generalship and his role in furthering the strategic aims of South Africa and the British Empire during this era.

A little on the Author

DAVID BROCK KATZ is an author and historian, who lectures at the Army and Defence Colleges of the South African National Defence Force.

He completed his MMil in Military History (cum laude) and a PhD in Military Science in the Department of Military History at the Faculty of Military Science of Stellenbosch University. He is also research fellow at the Faculty of Military Science and an active member of the Andrew Mlangeni Regiment (formerly the South African Irish Regiment). Katz is the author of South Africans vs Rommel (2019).

On-Line Orders

If you are unable to attend the launch and want this book you can obtain it on-line from amazon, takealot, Loot to Exclusive Books and more. Shop and just click on the appropriate book seller than can provide it to you.

To order Old Tin Hat beer or Spirit of Hermanus product follow this link: www.thespiritofhermanus.com

Looking forward to seeing some of you at the event and the chat with David and the audience on Jan Smuts:

Peter Dickens

A Rebellious Family Streak

A friend of mine, Dennis Morton is a prolific researcher and he brought up this rather interesting history which highlights the rebellious nature and political dichotomy in white South African families perfectly. So, here’s how a Boer war rebel’s history massively impacted South Africa’s liberal political landscape.

The Irish Brigade

During the South African War 1899-1902 (the Boer War), a number of British, especially Irish found themselves in alignment with the Boer Republic cause. Many of them were working on mines in the Transvaal or had otherwise settled and repatriated in the two Boer Republics prior to hostilities. Not just Irish, these ‘burgers’ also constituted many other Britons – Scots and even the odd Englishman. At the onset of the war they volunteered to join a Boer ‘Kommando’, and this one was special, it was created by John MacBride and initially commanded by an American West Point officer – Colonel John Blake. The Commando was called ‘The Irish Brigade’ mainly because of its very Irish/Irish American slant. After Colonel Blake was wounded in action at the Battle of Modderspruit, shot in the arm, command of the Irish Brigade was handed to John MacBride. The Brigade then saw action in the siege of Ladysmith, however this was not a happy time for Irish Brigade as its members were not enthusiastic about siege tactics. After the Boer forces were beaten back from the Ladysmith by the British the Irish Brigade began to fall apart. It was resurrected again as a second Commando in Johannesburg under an Australian named Arthur Lynch and disbanded after the Battle of Bergendal.

To say the Irish Brigade was controversial is an understatement, the whole of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom in 1899 (the Irish Republic split came much later) and members of this Brigade ran the risk of high treason if caught, especially if their ‘citizenships’ to the Boer Republics were not in order when the war began, or if they joined and swore allegiance to the Boers during the war itself.

So, at the end of the war there are a couple of Irish Brigade Prisoners of War who were captured and sent to St. Helena (which was the main camp for Boer POW) and they needed to be repatriated, in their case – the United Kingdom. The issue of treason hangs heavily on both of them.

Firstly, Prisoner 3783, Thomas Enright, an Irishman, who at one time was in the British army during the Matabele War and had changed allegiance to the Boer Republics, joining the Irish Brigade. The issue been the date of his burger citizenship which exceeded the amnesty for who was and who was not considered a ‘Burger’. The cut off for amnesty on oaths of allegiance by ‘foreigners’ to the Boer Republics was given as 29th September 1899.

The second is Prisoner 15910, John Hodgson, a Scotsman born at Paisley in the United Kingdom, he emigrated to Southern Africa in 1891. He lived in Rhodesia and moved to the Orange River Colony until 1896. He took the oath of allegiance to the South African Republic – ZAR (Transvaal) on the 28th or 29th December 1899, which was after the amnesty date. He served in the Irish Brigade under Blake and was captured by the British on 19th November 1900.

Luckily for both these men, they are not prosecuted for treason (which carried the death sentence) and repatriated to the United Kingdom after some heady politicking. Here’s where we stop with Thomas Enright and follow the Scotsman, John Hodgson.

On John Hodgson’s repatriation he is immediately ostracised by the British community because of his role on the side of the Boer Republics and six months after his return to the United Kingdom, he illegally boarded a ship bound for Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Here he set up shop working as a book-keeper and by 1904 John Hodgson’s family reunited with him in the Cape. Now, here’s the interesting bit that so often plagues ‘white’ South African families, although John Hodgson joined the Boer forces as a rebel, he, like many other Boer veterans, also harboured liberal political beliefs. He supported legal equality and the extension of a non-racial franchise (vote to all – Black emancipation) in Southern Africa.

Liberalism in South Africa

John Hodgson’s daughter, did not fall far from the tree, John’s rebellious and highly liberal nature rubbed off on her, she was Violet Margaret Livingstone Hodgson, who later married another liberal, William Ballinger. Margarat Ballinger would go down as a powerhouse in liberal politics in South Africa.

Margarat Ballinger would become the first President of The South African Liberal Party when it formed in 1953 and she would serve from 1937 as a Member of Parliament alongside Jan Smuts and his heir apparent Jan Hofmeyr. Highly vocal, she represented the Eastern Cape on the ‘Native Representatives Council’.

By 1947 her plans included new training and municipal representation for South African blacks and improved consultation with the Native Representatives Council. Time Magazine called her the ‘Queen of the Blacks’. Time Magazine went on to say Ballinger was the “white hope” leading 24,000,000 blacks as part of an expanded British influence in Southern Africa. Her Parliamentary career would take a dramatic turn when the National Party came to power in 1948.

By 1953, the ‘liberal’ side of the United Party lay in tatters, both Jan Smuts and Jan Hofmeyr had passed away in the short years of the ‘Pure’ National Party’s first tenure in power between 1948 and 1953. The Progressive Party and Liberal Party of South Africa would take shape to fill the void left by Smuts and Hofmeyr. The Liberal Party of South Africa was founded by Alan Paton and other ‘liberal’ United Party dissidents. Alan Paton came in as a Vice President and Margarat Ballinger the party’s first President. Unlike the United Party, the Liberal Party did not mince its position on the ‘black question’ and stood for full ‘Black, Coloured and Indian’ political emancipation and opened its doors to all races, they stood on the complete opposite extreme to the National Government and Apartheid and to the ‘left’ of the United Party.

Margarat Ballinger strongly voiced her anti-Apartheid views, opened up three ‘Black’ schools in Soweto without ‘permission’ and was one of a vocal few white voices openly defying H.F. Verwoerd. In 1960 she left Parliament when the South African government abolished the Parliamentary seats representing Black South Africans.

The Apartheid government’s heavy clampdown on ‘white liberals’ after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 forced many Liberal Party members into exile and many others were subject to various ‘banning’ actions locally. By 1968 the Apartheid government made it illegal for members of different races to join a singular political party, and instead of abiding the legislation (which the Progressive Party and others did), the Liberal Party stood it’s ground and chose to disband rather than reject its black members.

Not without a passing shot, in 1960 Margarat Ballinger published a scathing critique of Apartheid in a book she wrote called “From Union to Apartheid – A Trek to Isolation”. Ironic considering her family’s journey as a supporter of the ‘Boer’ cause. Regarded today as a ‘must read’ for anyone studying this period of South African history and Liberalism. She also wrote a trilogy on Britain in South Africa, Bechuanaland and Basutoland. Margarat passed away in 1980, before she could see the end of Apartheid.

In Conclusion

So, there you have it, an unusual and very South African family story, a strong minded Brit turned Boer rebel and his equally strong minded daughter, one who would become a pioneer of woman and liberalism in South Africa. It also reminds us as to the complexities and paradoxes of The South African War 1899-1902 and the different political sentiments at play within the Boer Forces, some of which can still surprise many today.


Written by Peter Dickens with great thanks to Dennis Morton for his research and writings.

Education Whiteout! The Broederbond

So often, when posting anything on Jan Smuts we get a tirade of slander, often masked as some sort of ‘truth’, certainly to the belligerent group who find themselves in a vortex of anger whenever Smuts is mentioned, or for that matter the same belligerence occurs whenever there is a move to strike at the old National Party and call them out for what they where .. Nazis.

So where does this all stem from? I’ve interviewed people who recall the onset of all this Afrikaner Nationalist inspired history in the past decades under Apartheid. The general opinion .. whose making this stuff up? .. what the heck! Ideas like an empty hinterland rich for the Boer nations taking a legitimate claim to it, migrating black tribes from the north meeting a white tribe migrating from the south in the middle having never met before, small clans of brave Voortrekkers beating back entire armies of treasonous blacks with a holy bible and powder shot, a British inspired Nazi styled extermination camp system in South Africa, an evil traitorous Jan Smuts arranging the British firing squad for Jopie Fourie – where did all this rubbish come from?

In case someone thinks I’m being insensitive at this stage, I’m not, I’m not saying the concentration camp system as was outlined in the South African War 1899 to 1902 did not exist, nor am I saying that it was not painful and tragic – it did exist and its a very painful past, what I am saying is that the education that lies behind it has been shrouded in a very false and flawed package of Nationalist thinking. Here’s why – here’s ‘the smoking gun’:

The Broederbond

The 1st executive council of the Afrikaner Broederbond in 1918.

The culprit for all of this is the Broederbond. There I said it, and I’m not trying to be some conspiracy theory nut job pointing towards a secret society for the world’s problems. No, this is a truth, based on a fact and a real life secret organisation with sinister goals. Here’s how the Broederbond ‘pulled the wool’ over everyones eyes in South Africa and manipulated the entire South African education system to their vicarious objectives, and in the long run successfully implemented ‘National Christian Education’ as the go-to framework for millions of South Africans, of all colours, then and to come in the future.

During Jan Smuts’ time as Prime Minister and the United Party in the pound seats, Smuts proposed the ‘dual medium’ education system – simple really in its idea, he wanted to bring Afrikaans speaking and English speaking coming together, sharing a common humanity and understanding each others cultures. The idea would be that certain subjects for English kids would be taught and written in Afrikaans and certain subjects for Afrikaans kids would be taught in English and examined in English. The classes and education would remain ‘separate’ but the playground would be a common area. The idea was that a natural cultural assimilation would eventually take root. The idea found favour in the thousands of Afrikaner and English service personnel during the war years with a 80% plus approval rating. At that stage in South Africa even in the old British ‘Regiments’ of the Union Defence Force it was becoming ‘good form’ for officers to be commanding and conversing in Afrikaans. Things were generally on the ‘up’.

Then, all of a sudden, the South African Military Intelligence Services started to pick up chatter, kids were returning home from school with concocted slander on Jan Smuts and the ruling party, false senses of national identity and incorrect historical interpretations, sheer hatred of all things British and extreme pro views on Nazism and the nobility of the German war effort, added to this were worrying views on Jewish capital and the Jewish exploitation in South Africa of ‘poor white Afrikaners’. It started up almost everywhere at once and it was ‘taught to them’.

Military intelligence swung into action in an attempt to find the root of all of this, this potentially posed a danger to South Africa’s war efforts. Early in the morning on the 13th December 1943 a small group of military intelligence officers infiltrated the Afrikaner Teachers Training College in Bloemfontein. They placed microphones and eavesdropped on an Afrikaner educationalists congress taking place in Bloemfontein – intelligence revealed it was a front for a Broederbond meeting intent on mapping South Africa’s future in the world of education. They traced vehicle registrations of many in attendance to known Broederbond members and highlighted Albert Hertzog, Nico Diederichs, Hendrick Verwoerd and Henning Klopper as the ringleaders (a line up of some significant heavy-weight National Party leaders).

Field Marshal Jan Smuts

What they took down whilst surveilling the meeting was nothing short of mind blowing, there was an intensive focus by the Broederbond on the country’s educators to dispel with Smuts’ policy and build both educators and the education system along Nationalist lines, to hit Smuts’ policy at the very basic and very weakest link – the children .. anti-Smuts and nationalist ideals would begin at a early developmental stage, such that the ‘education’ in National Christian dogma was ingrained by adulthood, an undeniable ‘fact’ would be fostered – people would simply know no better.

The investigation, led by the head of intelligence Colonel E.G. Malherbe, opened up more evidence over the years, a massive reservoir of intelligence, papers, transcripts, photographs began to grow – showing especially the Broederbond’s grip on the education systems and the reformed dutch churches. Netted in all this intelligence was also all the secret discussions, transcripts and alliances with Nazi Germany and the use of Nazi dogma in National Christian ideology.

Colonel Ernst G. Malherbe

They intercepted Broederbond correspondence calling for the infiltration on the Union Defence Force with aligned brothers from the Dutch Reformed Church to bolster the number of chaplains and start to undermine the war effort at the vulnerable point of dealing with soldiers religious frameworks

It was all presented to General Smuts by Colonel Malherbe with the recommendation to stamp out the Broederbond with immediate effect, cut it away before it really took root. Smuts , as was his nature, took a cautionary route when dealing with this Afrikaner faction. Malherbe asked Smuts to ‘name and shame’ publicly all the members of the Broederbond, warn the public on the influenced education their kids were receiving – issue a public notice in the press. Smuts decided instead to try and round up the ring-leaders and ring-fence them in Koffiefontein, he did not want all the reputable Dominees of the Afrikaans churches named and shamed as well as honourable men in the education and school board systems unduly battered in the media. He felt, much to Maherbe’s disillusionment with him, that a negotiated and moral influence on the matter would be best. He would however ‘ban’ any Brother working in a government job if he did not resign from the Broederbond – many did, and a handful stood firm. He had after all, what Malherbe would later say was “a soft spot for the church”.

The Broederbond in an unprecedented first came out in public and immediately started with the smoke and mirrors, the then Chair of the Bond Professor J.C. van Rooy declared in selected media that Smuts’ attack on the Broederbond as an unjust, unsubstantiated, unGodly attack on honest people in a simple ‘cultural society’ – nothing more. We now all know the aims of this ‘cultural society’ and it was State Capture .. on an epic level, it made the ANC’s attempt in recent years look like a child’s play .. why, the Nats got away with it, the ANC is yet to.

Broederbond Chairman – Prof J.C van Rooy

And if you think this program of Nationalist influence on our education small, think again. From the on-set of the historical discourse of the Afrikaner in Africa is a bias – at the very root of the Nationalist mythology, the simple fact that on the curriculum was the ‘discovery’ of a largely empty land and settlement of the Cape by the Dutch, a kind of ‘first rights’ to the country with Jan van Riebeeck nobly leading it. It begins with the famous painting of a benevolent bunch of Dutch settles carrying a Dutch Prinsenvlag (Prince Flag) coming in peace and trade – with a stoic religion and a civilising mind. Now, the fact is the British colonised the Cape BEFORE the Dutch, in fact 30 odd years before – huh! You Lie! Comes the chorus. So here’s some rather inconvenient truth.

The first flag to fly over the Cape was NOT the Prinsenvlag, the first flag was King James the 1st of England and Scotland – the Union Jack (known then as the British Flag without the Ireland inclusion). The flag was planted on Signal Hill in 1620 – long before the Dutch did it in 1652. That’s how insanely biased the National party narrative has become. If you think I’m telling ‘Porkies’, look it up for yourself, 27 March 1620 – The Unitie one of three British ships arrives in Table Bay from England, a small settlement had already existed there to furnish passing Spanish, British, Portuguese and Dutch traders. Two of the Commanders of these ships, Captain Humphrey Fitzherbert and Captain Andrew Shilling hoist the Union Jack on the slopes of Signal Hill calling it King James Mount and take possession of the entire countryside in the name of the British Monarch. Here they planned a plantation similar to that established by the Virginia Company at Jamestown. The settlement would have provided a revitalising stop on the way to the East but nothing came of the plan .. so what happens next? As historians we don’t really know, there is a conflicting account, we do however know it’s been ‘written out’ of the narrative – I can assure you there are now some serious historians ‘on the case’ now.

But the long and short is that the Cape was obviously left to the Dutch to also settle on the 6th April 1652, and even that is nothing but a footnote, it was neither the Dutch or the British that settled the Cape, it was the Khoi and San and as inconvenience goes there is proof of their farming and permanent settlements here which date back 2000 years … to the time of Christ – the Colonial period is but a ‘blip’ in the original peoples account of things. Bottom line, our understanding of our conjoint history of South Africa – white, black, Afrikaans, Coloured, Indian etc etc was off to a very bad start – the absolute beginning chapter 1 is so flawed you can drive a truck through it – the funny bit, this nationalist folklore made it onto our banknotes, into monuments, into textbooks and net net into our shared psyche as South Africans .. and its all not worth the paper its written on.

Left to their devises with their hatreds, bias and convoluted history, the Broerderbond carried on with influencing key institutions moving ‘brothers’ into key positions and pivots and pockets of power. Their activities given a massive boost in 1948 when the Nationalists unexpectedly won a General Election. Snapping up the opportunity to cover all their tracks, and distance the new government and many of its elected officials from their nazi ideologies and alignments during the war – they sprung into immediate action.

In July 1948, mere months after the National Party won the election, Colonel Malherbe’s successor Colonel Charles Powell (Colonel Malherbe was by the time the Vice Chancellor of the University of Natal), was sitting in the National Intelligence archive and in came none other than the National Party’s new head of Defence – F.C. Erasmus – who promptly dismissed Colonel Powell on the spot with a 24 hours notice. He then proceeded to remove “two lorries” worth of Broederbond documentation from the archive – never to be seen again. Formal complaints to the new Minister of Justice to reinstate the military intelligence archive were just ignored. Luckily and I mean luckily for us much of this was recorded in Malherbe’s book ‘Education in South Africa’.

Later, to the continued amazement of all, whenever there was a press conference and B.J Vorster taken to task on any of his Nazi or Broederbond past he would often smugly turn around to any young whippersnapper trying to set a record straight and simply say “prove it”.

Conclusion

Nothing like the art of deniability and the art of deception, the tragedy now is a ever growing and ever more deceived Afrikaner sub-culture, forever set to grind an imaginary sword against an imaginary injustice, and to forever come out and yell ‘veraaier’ and ‘Kings puppet’ at arguably the best of the Afrikaner nation – from Jan Smuts to Sailor Malan. Tragic, because its in these men, Smuts et al that the salvation of modern white Afrikaners lie, in the pro-democratic forward thinking Afrikaner ‘liberals’, the ones that fought Apartheid with every bone in their bodies – not their detractors, this little band of radical right wing nationalists and their ‘point of view’ on history needs to be left in the dust – or there is no moving on and all that white Afrikaners hold dear to their culture, language and heritage will ultimately be decimated in the march of time and the symbolism of Apartheid becomes intrinsically transfixed to Afrikaaners and Afrikanerdom as a whole.

Written and researched by Peter Dickens

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References

Malherbe, Earnest G ‘Education in South Africa’ 1977 and ‘The Bilingual School’ 1945. The ‘White tribe of Africa’ David Harrison 1987. Day to Day history of the South African Navy – Chris Bennett.

A road to democracy called ‘the egg’!

800x450Colin Eglin, the long-time anti-apartheid campaigner and long-time leader of the opposition Democrats in South Africa has recently had a road named after him … but so what! Many streets and roads are named after various politicians in South Africa, especially the anti-apartheid campaigners in recent times … however, this one is different, very different.

Why? Because Colin Eglin Road is not in South Africa, it’s in Italy.

Most modern South Africans who can even recall him, just know him as part of the last vestige of ‘white liberals’ in a ‘whites only’ Parliament trying to hold the juggernaut of the National Party and its Apartheid policy to account.  A tiny voice calling for full democracy in a sea of National Party (NP) rural ‘afrikaner-bloc’ gerrymandering which overtook him and pushed the ‘official opposition’ i.e. the PFP (now the DA) and the more liberal ‘english-bloc’ urban voters calling for an end to Apartheid into complete political irrelevance.

Note – this gerrymandering (the weighting and re-drawing of constituency boundaries to create a favourable political bias) which the NP used to destroy Colin Eglin and the PFP using the ‘rural bias’ is now happily used by the ANC and this last significant footprint of Apartheid has been put to good effect keeping the DA’s ‘urban’ vote ineffectual.

So, gerrymandering has resulted in well-regarded South African politicians been side-lined – what it did to the ‘democrat’ opposition bench then, it also does to them now. You may now even have to ask ‘Who is Colin Eglin anyway?’ and  how is it that Colin Eglin became so revered that the Italians have named one of their roads after him?

That bit has a lot to do with Colin Eglin’s status as a military veteran and his tireless campaigning for South African military veteran recognition and the causes they fought so hard for in the mountains of Italy.

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Now, who even knew Colin Eglin was a 2nd World War veteran? Let’s examine what drove this most complex war veteran turned political campaigner.

Background 

Colin Wells Eglin was born on 14th April 1925 in Sea Point, Cape Town, at a young age he moved to live with his aunt, outside Hobhouse, Eastern Free State when his father died after a long illness. Colin attended the Hobhouse School where he was the only English–speaking  pupil – “I found myself the only rooinek (red neck, or English-speaker) in the village school.” he later lamented and he very quickly came to learn of the ‘Afrikaner politics’ and tension between the National Party supporters of DF Malan and those of Barry Hertzog – politics which began to deeply affect him. It also him the rare advantage of being fully fluent in both English and Afrikaans.

Colin was a bright and highly intelligent pupil and he left the Orange Free State and attended the De Villiers Graaf High School in Villiersdorp where he matriculated in 1939 at the very young age for a matriculant – only 14 years old.

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Colin Eglin during WW2

South Africa had gone to war when Colin matriculated, at 14 years old he was too young to join the army, so in 1940 (now aged just 15) Colin Eglin registered for a Bachelor of Science degree in quantity surveying at the University of Cape Town (UCT). In 1943, now finally at the recruitment age of 18 he interrupted his studies at UCT to fulfil Jan Smuts’ call to go to war, and he voluntarily joined the army.

World War 2

Colin initially became a full-time instructor in the anti-aircraft unit in Cape Town. He was then sent to a similar unit in Egypt and transferred to Italy in 1944 joining the 6th South African Armoured Division fighting in the Italian Apennines around Florence. Now a 19-year-old ‘rookie’ soldier, he was to be baptised in the last significant combat operations of the war and was front and forward in the South African assault on Monte Sole.

Colin Eglin had joined ‘D Company’ of an amalgamated Cape Town Highlanders (CTH) and First City (FC) from Grahamstown unit which had formed a combined regiment for service in the 6th South African Armoured Division.

The Cape Town Highlanders (CTH) and First City (FC), known collectively as ‘FC/CTH’ had just previously acquitted themselves very well under the command of Lt Col. Angus Duncan in the taking of Monte Stanco from strong German positions and at this stage the war had entered a static winter period before the next big push onto Monte Sole.

As Colin had completed four years university study at UCT in quantity surveying it was felt that he had sufficient qualification for ‘Battlefield Intelligence’ and he was put on a course to become ‘D’ Company’s intelligence corporal (the military –  then and now  – often displays this odd logic for placing individuals civilian qualifications for military needs).

Colin was taken to the ‘Pink House’ near Grizzana, a farm building that was also the operational HQ of ‘C’ Company for a crash course of two weeks training in ‘Battlefield Intelligence’ and then back to D Company.

‘D’ Company had its headquarters in a cluster of farmhouses, named the ‘Foxhole’, on the slopes of the mountain overlooking Grizzana.  As it was in the line of fire of enemy positions, ‘Foxhole’ was a tough, cold and miserable posting. Colin found himself in a forward observation post (OP) located at the cemetery at Campiaro.  The OP overlooked the town of Vergato which was the centre of the German defences in the area.

In the freezing weather, snow and mud guard duty and patrols by D company in the area were a miserable affair.  Patrols were sent out at night, and they almost always hit fierce and lethal contacts with the German defenders.  In these patrols and observations Cpl Colin Elgin became adept at map reading and at recognising, and noting, the sounds and sights of warfare.

Much needed ‘Rest and Recuperation’ (R&R) came around every two weeks when ‘D Company’ members would go to nearby Castiglione dei Pepoli,  the South African 6th Division HQ was located there and they could shower, get fresh supplies and spend some time relaxing.  Known to the South African soldiers as ‘Castig’ the town of Castiglione dei Pepoli was to become a central feature in Colin Eglin’s life for years to come.

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The South African 6th Division in the town square of Castiglione dei Pepoli – 1945.

In the valleys around Monte Sole, between the 29th September and 5 October 1944 the Italian resistance kicked into action, this then spurred the defending German forces into an extreme action to control the area.  They embarked on massacre, and proceeded to try to wipe out all Italian civilians around Monte Sole – resistance, men, women and children (all of them – it mattered not a jot).  The town of Marzabotto alone commemorates the massacre of 770 individuals, mostly the elderly, women and children.

With the static winter period over, by the spring of 1945 the South African 6th Division could advance on Monte Sole.  In April 1945 Colin Eglin joined a CTH/FC forward party for a briefing on the assault on Monte Sole by Colonel Angus Duncan.

Colin noted “In a few weeks’ time the Allied spring offensive would commence. The Sixth Armoured Division had been given the task of opening the road to Bologna. To do this, the Twelfth Brigade would have to capture the mountain massif formed by Monte Sole, Caprara and Abelle. The Highlanders had been assigned to capture Monte Sole. Suddenly that mountain we had gazed at all winter from a safe distance was in front of us. Forbidding, frightening, challenging. Casualties were likely to be heavy. Yet there was a sense of pride that our regiment had been chosen for this pivotal battle task, and quiet determination to show we could do it”.

The South African 6th Division attack in Spring 1945 was a two-pronged affair, the Cape Town Highlanders and First City (FC/CTH) were to take Monte Sole – regarded as  the most formidable of the German Army defences, and Witwatersrand Rifles/Regiment de la Rey (another amalgamated unit) i.e. WR/DLR were to take Monte Caprara.  The idea was to eventually push through and capture the crossings of the River Po and break out into the vallies and plains beyond the mountains.

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Looking more like partisans than regulars, a First City/Cape Town Highlanders patrol sets out in the italian Apennines – 1945. SANDF Archive

To prepare for the attack on 15th April 1945, the German defensive positions were bombed from the air and shelled by artillery.  In taking Caprara, the WR/DLR suffered heavy casualties right from the start and in desperate fighting which at time even involved hand-to-hand combat, they took the mountain. Counter-attacks by German forces were effectively fought off by the South African tenaciously holding on to their win.

Colin Eglin was assembled at the start-line for FC/CTH attack on Monte Sole at Casa Belvedere (two kilometers from the peak of Monte Sole).  He had just celebrated his 20th birthday the day before.

Both ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies of FC/CTH advanced along two farm tracks leading up to the summit on Monte Sole.  They re-assembled 800 meters from the crest of Monte Sole.  The area was heavily mined by Germans, but despite this the South Africans of C and D company advanced under the command a 20-year-old rookie officer with only 12 days front line combat exposure.  2nd Lt. Gordon Mollett led the charge up the approach with only five men and ‘with total disregard for his life’ wiped out the machine gun posts on the crest of Monte Sole with the loss of one of his men.

So swift was the assault on the German’s position that they were completely unprepared for proper defence or the bayonet charge, and with that 2nd Lt Mollett walked into South African history with a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for his actions and the rest of C and D companies of the FC/CTH took the crest and won the day.

Preceding the final attack on Monte Sole, Colin Eglin had been tasked to install telephone lines as far up the route as possible.  Highly dangerous work, on his way up to Monte Sole the soldier walking just behind him stood on a German anti-personnel Schützenmine 42 mine.  Also known as a Schuh mine (shoe mine) it is a simple wooden box with a hinged lid containing a 200-gram block of cast TNT and a ZZ-42 type detonator, and it blew off part of the South African soldiers foot.

Colin applied an emergency field dressing to his wounded comrades foot, administered first aid and called for a stretcher-bearer. Even with the threat of mines now highly apparent Colin and couple of ‘D’ Company platoons continued to press forward to the summit. Colin was able to get to the top and rigged up his field radio under fire, only to have its aerial cut in two by all the shrapnel and bullets flying around, thus rendering it useless.  So he scrambled down the mountain to the HQ, it was here that he took in the news of the tragic death of his Commander – Lt Col Angus Duncan.  He was killed the foot of Monte Sole when his jeep was blown up.

It is thought that the jeep carrying Lt. Col Duncan hit a mine, while other witness accounts suggest an artillery round fired from a German 88 mm anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun across the valley hit the vehicle.

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Officer Commanding First City/Cape Town Highlanders, Lt Col Angus Duncan, addressing his men before the assault on Monte Sole. He was killed shortly after this photograph was taken, while driving to his brigade’s position.  SANDF Archive

Many years later in Peter Elliott’s interview with Colin Eglin (then Colin was 88 years old and this was his last visit to Italy), whilst the two of them re-traced the steps of FC/CTH at Monte Sole, Colin recalled how the strain of war impacted two completely different soldiers and comrades, Jan and Peter.  Jan was a tough outdoors man, an extrovert and he relished army life prior to the battle. Peter was a indoors man, an introvert who just endured army life out of a sense of duty. During the battle for Monte Sole it was Jan, the extrovert whose nerves snapped, and he had to be withdrawn from battlefield. Colin found Peter, the introvert some time later still in his slit trench.  He had been under intense mortar fire during a number of German counter-attacks, but remained resolute.  He was exhausted but even cheerful and shouted across at Colin triumphantly, ‘Corporal, we made it!’

Even though the taking of the crest had been swift, the Battle for Monte Sole was heavy and hard going, in all FC/CTH suffered heavy losses – a total of 31 men killed and 78 men wounded. The extent of contribution of the two Regiments to the battle and victory can be seen in the bravery – in all twelve gallantry medals and awards were won.

The capture of Monte Sole by FC/CTH opened up the road to Bologna and beyond the Po Valley, within two short weeks on 2 May 1945, the Germans formally surrendered in Italy.  For the South Africans it was effectively war over!

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‘D’ Company FC/CTH HQ Melzo, Italy, a week after war ended in May 1945. Colin Eglin is fourth from right, back row.

But a new struggle was emerging for these newly minted war veterans, certainly for Colin Eglin. After the War Colin remained in Italy for nine months, he was stationed at Castiglione dei Pepoli, the town located near Monte Sole remained the South African 6th Armoured Division’s headquarters and it now became a depot and clearing station for the entire division (in fact the main South African military burial ground in Italy is located there).  During this period, whilst waiting to be demobilised he undertook extra-mural courses in Archaeology and Town Planning.

The entire event had made an indelible impression on Colin’s soul, it was the Italian Campaign that was to deepen his commitment to democracy and liberty. Monte Sole was a shrine for him as he returned there on many occasions during the next sixty-eight years to stand gazing at the mountain where, as a young man, he quickly became an adult. During these trips he was also to build a lasting relationship with the towns-people of Castiglione dei Pepoli.

A military veteran’s legacy

In his autobiography, “Crossing the Borders of Power – The Memoirs of Colin Eglin,” Colin mentions the discussions that took place among the South African soldiers in 1945, whilst in Italy waiting to be repatriated to South Africa. Colin noted:

“The dominant view was that there should be a memorial, but that this should be a ‘living’ one that served the community, not merely a monumental structure. The servicemen, in overwhelming numbers, volunteered to donate two days’ pay towards what was to become the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.”

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For more on the Red Cross War Memorial Children Hospital follow this link to the related Observation Post; A war memorial in Cape Town which saves children’s lives

The children’s hospital was to be built as a memorial to those who had contributed by sacrifice, suffering and service in the Second World War, the soldiers felt that children had been the innocent victims of the war and the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital was devoted to the relief of the suffering of children.

The building of the Children’s Hospital in Cape Town commenced in 1953 under the guidance of the South African Red Cross Society and remains a ‘living war memorial’ helping the most vulnerable of the community – our children – and Colin Eglin was to play a leading role in making it happen.

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Colin Eglin speaking at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town on Remembrance Day

During his life-time Colin returned to the Italian Apennines and Castiglione dei Pepoli over ten times. For his work on Remembrance and maintaining the links of this part of Italy with their liberators – South Africa – he was even made an honorary citizen of the town of Grizzana Morandi.

But why was an opposition party leader elevated to such a significant position in Italy and not a government one?  We all know the answer to that, as the Nationalist Party had no really sincere intentions on commemorating South Africa’s war against Nazism and Fascism in Italy, before and during the war they had supported the ideals of Nazism and Fascism.  They were not going to change their stance on Britain, British Allies, Smuts, World War 2 or even Fascism.  So this key task on building on the South African sacrifice in Europe, lest it all be in vain, was left to that part of the South African mainstream party political spectrum which supported Smuts and all the ‘liberals’ who went to war against Nazi Germany – and that part of the party political spectrum in 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was Colin Eglin’s turf.

The political path for Post War veterans 

In 1946 Colin returned from the Italian theatre of Military Operations to South Africa, here he picked up where he left off and continued with his studies, graduating the same year with a B.Sc in Quantity Surveying from UCT.

He became involved in civic affairs and started the Pinelands Young People’s Club which helped set up a sister organization in the neighbouring Coloured village of Maitland. In 1951 he became chairman of the Pinelands Civic Association and was elected to the Pinelands town council.

The electoral loss of the Jan Smuts’ United Party in 1948 to the National Party and their Apartheid proposals sent shock waves into South Africa’s war veteran community.  The war for liberty and democracy they had conducted overseas in places like Italy, against the same forces of fascism which had now come home to roost in South Africa.  This spurred The Torch Commando in the early 1950’s led by Sailor Malan and Colin Eglin as a returning war veteran joined The Torch Commando and started to become very politicised.

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The Torch Commando was the first anti-Apartheid mass protest movement, and it was made up of returning war veterans.  It was primarily a ‘pro-democracy’ movement and was crushed by the National Party because of the military threat it posed – and it was done by using ‘anti-communist’ legislation designed to curtail any ideology in opposition to Apartheid.

The Torch Commando was linked to the United Party, who tried to leverage it for the ‘service vote’ and wrestle power back from the National Party. In 1953 Colin decided to enter in formal political party opposition to Apartheid in addition to protesting with The Torch Commando – and he joined Smuts’ United Party (Smuts had just passed away in 1950).  Almost immediately he became the political campaign manager for his friend Zach de Beer who was the United Party (UP) candidate for the parliamentary seat of Maitland.  Colin Eglin and Zach de Beer were to form a friendship and political bond which would transform itself into what is now the modern “Democratic Alliance’, of the two Helen Suzman would say “Zach was clever, but Colin was sounder”.

160px-Verenigde_Party_logo_1In 1954 Colin himself was elected unopposed as the UP provincial councillor for Pinelands. In addition to that, he became chairman of the UP’s Cape Peninsula Council and then in 1958 Eglin became the Peninsula MP.

By August 1959, following the United Party’s congress in Bloemfontein, Colin broke from the UP ranks, the new guard in the UP instead of following  Smuts’ vision of universal suffrage and holistic reconciliation in South Africa, still humoured the more conservative elements of the party who wanted a limited franchise and some restrictive movements for South Africa’s black migrant working population – a sort of ‘Apartheid Lite’ if you will.

In 1959 this was clearly no longer the direction needed or in any way relevant for liberal and democratic opposition parties in South Africa. Colin was one of UP rebels who issued a declaration of dissent (the others included Zach de Beer and Helen Suzman).

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Helen Suzman at a Progressive Party meeting

In November that year he was one of the 11 members of parliament who formed the nucleus of the new Progressive Party (PP).  It was a bold move, it would ultimately spell the end of the United Party and the conservative element within it, also by fractionating the official opposition (the UP) it certainly bolstered the National Party.  What it did however also do was draw the line in the sand of ‘white politics’ – on the one side, the whites who supported Apartheid and a whites only vote and on the other side whites who did not support Apartheid and wanted a democratic vote for all.

All through this Colin Eglin never wavered from his adherence to liberal, democratic values, he aimed to reform the system from the inside; and by balancing criticism of race discrimination with political pragmatism he sometimes found himself the subject of attack from both black and white communities.

The ANC would argue that by participating in the apartheid political system, no matter what his stance, Eglin helped perpetuate it. Yet by participating Eglin was also able to work against the Apartheid government machine and make important political gestures – such as his visit to the black activist Steve Biko, or sending ‘official government opposition’ delegations to promote the dismantling of Apartheid in the so-called ‘independent’ Bantustan ‘homelands’ and promoted dialogue with urbanised black leadership.

By 1966 Colin Eglin became chairman on the National Executive of the Progressive Party (PP) and in 1971 he became the party leader succeeding Jan Steytler. In an attempt to attract Afrikaners to the PP, he initiated ‘Deurbraak’, the first journal of verligte (enlightened) opinion in South Africa. Colin Eglin also initiated a dialogue between the PP and Black homeland and urban leaders. He was also instrumental in establishing Synthesis, a non-party political study and discussion group, which became an important tool for information and contact across the colour bar. He also held a symposium of 50 Afrikaner academics in 1971, from which a non-party-political movement, Verligte Aksie, was formed.

In 1974 the PP won six seats in the general election with the seventh coming from a by-election a few months later. In 1975 Eglin negotiated the merger with members of the Reform Party, which led to the formation of the Progressive Reform Party (PRP). In 1976 he called an Extraordinary Parliamentary session to discuss the Soweto Uprising and call for the resignation of the Minister of Bantu Affairs, M.C. Botha.

A combination of gerrymandering by the National Party and totalitarian crack-down by the Apartheid State of South Africa’s liberal ‘democratic’ politicians, gagging many of them by way of banning and sending many into exile after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, saw liberal politics in a racially segregated and conservative Afrikaner biased voting sphere become absolutely irrelevant – and the PP would eventually lose all its seats, except one – Helen Suzman – who remained a lone voice of official opposition to Apartheid in Parliament for many years.

Also for many years, while she was the Progressive’s sole MP,  Colin Eglin acted as Helen Suzman’s link with extra-parliamentary activities. He travelled extensively in Africa, Europe, America and even China. During visits to 15 African countries, as official government ‘opposition’ to the National Party he met many heads of state to drive international opposition to Apartheid – and he did this using official and politically legal channels – without having to resort his party to violent opposition.

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Criticism of the PRP by the National Party as they tried to brand then as a “Tool of Communist agitators.” was swiftly put in place by Suzman who said .. “it’s really a joke, isn’t it? Because, quite clearly, we are a party of real moderates. It just shows how little they understand.”

In 1977, following a merger with the Committee for United Opposition that had also broken away from the United Party the PRP became the Progressive Federal Party (PFP). By 1979 Colin stepped down as leader in favour of Dr F van Zyl Slabbert and became Shadow Foreign Minister, a post he would hold until 1986.

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In 1986 Colin Eglin found himself at the reigns of his party again following the shock resignation of Van Zyl Slabbert from the PFP. Ironically van Zyl Slabbert had one crucial deficiency, which Eglin had in spades – staying power. Eglin, on one occasion described the pursuit of the liberal cause on the stony soil of South Africa as “the politics of the long haul”. And when Slabbert, despairing of making any change to the Apartheid machine quit the leadership in a fiery act of self-implosion it was again to Eglin that his shell-shocked colleagues turned to give the lead.

1200px-Progressive_Federal_Party_logoHe remained party leader until 1988, however he didn’t have the best people skills to sustain this type of leadership. Affectionately known as ‘the Egg’, Colin Eglin had a sharp tongue and bit off many heads. His long-time colleague Helen Suzman admitted that his manner “put off a lot of people. Yet we all came back to “the Egg”, not only because he was a role model for progressives, or because of his intelligence and measured political judgment, but because he was a decent, very warm-hearted man, whom we held in great affection.

In 1988 his old UP friend, a veteran of democratic politics – Zach de Beer, took over from Colin as the newly elected party leader of the PFP. With seismic political changes on the horizon, in 1989 Colin Eglin focused on preparing his party enter into a meaningful role in South Africa’s democratic evolution, to do this he knew he needed other democratic bodies in coalition with the PFP – so he negotiated with the Independent Party and National Democratic Movement to bring together a new opposition to the National Party in parliament.

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This resulted in the formation of the Democratic Party (DP) in 1989 and the dissolution of PFP.   Colin was subsequently elected chairperson of the DP’s parliamentary caucus, and Zac de Beer took control of the reigns of the DP as leader.

Building Democratic opposition in a new epoch 

180px-Democratic_Party_SA_logoIn 1991, as the Democratic Party (DP) stalwart, Colin participated in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and served in its working group. Described by Nelson Mandela as “one of the architects of (South Africa’s) democracy”, Colin Eglin played a leading role in the drafting of the country’s post-apartheid constitution.

It was in CODESA at Kempton Park that Colin came into his own.  It has been said that it was as though his life to then had been preparation for just this moment. Much of South Africa’s much praised liberal constitution is due to Colin’s clear grasp of the principles of liberal democracy and the constraints and provisions of those institutions charged with protecting and advancing these.

codesa_logo_s_0Colin’s negotiating prowess was recognised by Joe Slovo in particular and, when an impasse was reached, the two would get together and generally find a way forward and eventually, a worthy constitution was to emerge. His intellect, presence and engaging manner were recognised and respected by all in those crafting the new democratic Constitution and Bill of Rights in the tumultuous years of 1990 to April 1994.

Colin Eglin continued to serve in the segregated House of Assembly until it was abolished in 1994 after the historic democratic transition and vote in South Africa, and Colin then served in the multi-racial National Assembly as a DP Parliamentarian.

In November 1994, at the end of the first session of South Africa’s first democratic Parliament, a small group of Democratic Party MPs had lunch in Pretoria with President Nelson Mandela to discuss some challenges affecting the new legislature.

On arrival, in the dining room at the official residence, Mandela arranged the seating with this instruction: “Colin, you sit at the head of the table – you are the senior man here in terms of service.” 

Mandela was giving recognition to a veteran anti-Apartheid stalwart, a person who had first been elected to Parliament fighting Apartheid tooth and nail some 36 years before this luncheon and a person whose Parliamentarian career would even outlive Nelson Mandela’s own after the luncheon was over. It was some acknowledgement to ‘the Egg’ and South Africa’s democrats and Mandela knew it.

1200px-Democratic_Alliance_(SA)_logoIn 2000, the DP merged with other groups to become the Democratic Alliance (DA), which survives as the current official ‘democratic’ opposition to an African National Congress (ANC) government.

Whilst in the DA, Colin turned his attention on the new ‘Nationalists’ in Parliament, where the Afrikaner Nationalists (NP) were his previous foe, the African Nationalists (ANC) were his next.  To Eglin – nationalism almost always meant one-upmanship of one nation over that of another, he had learned a bitter lesson in nationalism and all its inherent evils in the freezing hills of Italy in WW2.

His foresight to NP politics then were as applicable to his foresight on ANC politics now. Colin felt that the ANC government should focus almost entirely on decreasing the poverty gap in South Africa – and in so do two things – unleash the forces of enterprise to reduce unemployment and focus government spending on housing and education … and not on self-enrichment – here he felt the flawed ANC driven BEE ‘transformation’ programs only served to transform a ANC political elite to a ‘super-class’ and the ‘under-class’ and poverty-stricken would simply be left behind.  He also fought the ANC’s bills and amendments to press freedoms believing them to be “a cover up of corruption, incompetence and nepotism”.

Colin-Eglin-1024x788In one his final speeches, Colin Eglin is nothing short of pure prophesy – consider this when he said “Ironically the (ANC) government’s Black Economic Empowerment policy has contributed to the widening of the (poverty) gap, by creating a new rich elite, often of persons with strong political connections, and by leaving the millions of impoverished out of the empowerment process.  These factors are having an impact, turning people away from the values that underpin our constitutional system, and eroding confidence in our democratic institutions.  They are driving people towards populism as a cure for their problems.  In short, they are undermining our new democracy.”

Colin Eglin retired from the DA and opposition democratic politics in 2004 and in the same year was made an Officer of the Order of the Disa, conferred on him by the Western Cape Provincial Government.

In April 2013, the South African Government conferred the Order of the Baobab, Category II (Silver) on Eglin for serving the country with excellence and for his dedication and courage in standing up for the principles of equality for all South Africans against the unjust laws of the past.

Colin died at 88 years old on the 30 November 2013, his long time wife Joyce had died some years before of cancer in 1997 and he left his new partner Raili, three daughters and five grandsons.

As a leading politician and WW2 veteran of The Cape Town Highlanders (CTH), he was afforded a military funeral with draped coffin and the Guard of Honour was provided by the CTH.  This short video captures his life and death and the respect he gained in opposition to the National Party and the ANC alike.

The peaceful road to democracy  

Today, there seems to exist an opinion in the new political class in South Africa, that if you did not take up arms to fight ‘the crime of humanity’ that was Apartheid you were somehow derelict in your duty as a South African and somehow complicit in upholding Apartheid instead. This rhetoric is aimed at blaming white people for all of South Africa’s ills and demanding financial reparations from them.  It’s an ANC and ECC narrative devised to whip up Populism and cover up their own inadequacies, crime and corruption – and its a narrative which is entirely misplaced.

The truth is that many ‘struggle’ organisations other than the ANC alliance fought against Apartheid, and not all of them had to resort to armed conflict to do so, Desmond Tutu and the Council of Churches, The Black Sash, the Progressive Federal Party, The Torch Commando, The Liberal Party, The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), the United Democratic Front (UDF), the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), the Council of South African Students (COSAS), Jews for Social Justice, The South African Congress of Democrats, The Federation of South African Women. Temple Israel, The Boycott Movement, The Natal Indian Congress and many many more all worked within the confines of the Republic’s constitution and the law to bring Apartheid to an end.

This included South Africa’s white progressives and democrats – starting with the United Party in 1948 and ending with the Democratic Party in 1994 who felt that the system in the long run could be changed from within if they stuck to it and fought it tooth and nail. Here’s the inconvenient truth – they were correct, in the long haul their work was as effective in removing Apartheid as any armed struggle, if not more so. Bold statement but its the real truth.

The truth of the matter is that an armed struggle did not really end Apartheid, the ballot did.  There was no MK led ‘military victory parade’ over defeated SADF/SAP forces – and that’s because there was no military victory.  The victory in the end was a moral one, and it was one in which democracy loving white South African’s played a key role – the first time white people were given a proper representative vote since 1948 (without National Party gerrymandering of proportional representation playing any factor whatsoever) occurred in 1992.  The ‘white’ electorate  calmly, with no overt pressure whatsoever voted Apartheid OUT and voted a full and representative democracy for all South Africans IN – and the did that in the Yes/No referendum of 1992 – two years before the so-called ’94 miracle’ – and they voted for Colin Eglin’s  ‘democrats’ and enlightened National Party ‘progressives’ who backed the ‘Yes’ vote by a majority of 70% – that is a truth.

Without this ‘YES’ vote the CODESA negotiations would have been scrapped and South Africa would have continued on its ‘Apartheid’ trajectory – fact. It was white people using the peaceful means of the ballot which ended Apartheid and not the ‘armed struggle’, and they used it within the Apartheid ‘whites only’ parliamentary process – fact. Colin Eglin, Zach de Beer, Helen Suzman and the DP played a key role in this referendum and their life’s work ultimately ended Apartheid – without firing a shot – fact.

Who do you think you are!

If you had to play a game of heritage along the lines of the BBC’s ‘who do you think you are’, the DA’s political pedigree starts with Smuts’ United Party and the war veterans like Colin Eglin who fought for liberty and freedom and returned to South Africa only to become politicised when the National Party came to power in 1948.  This is the epicentre of the DA’s beginning, a proud cocktail of the ‘democratic’ fight against Nazism, Fascism Apartheid and Nationalism.  Colin Eglin is the ‘golden thread’ that links the DA to its wartime beginning and its modern values.

In July 2018, the townspeople of four villages in the mountains Italian Apennines acknowledged Colin Eglin, for his work in keeping the sacrifice of South African in Italy alive and relevant in South Africa.  For his work in creating a living war memorial to the children in South Africa, for his ties and diplomacy with the Italy authorities looking after the South African war dead and keeping their legacy alive in the years of Apartheid’s isolation and for his tireless political work to bring peace and democracy to South Africa.

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The unveiling ceremony was attended by Mayors of the surrounding Italian towns in the Apennines where the South Africans fought, Italian Military and Police officials, the South African Ambassador to Italy, and the South African National Defence Force Military Attaché to Italy all attended.  In addition, 73 years on, the extreme gratitude of the Italian people (including their modern-day children) to the South Africans is still palatable – and it is all in honour of South African sacrifice and the values of the men who brought liberty to this far-flung part of Italy.

In addition to the named road, the town of Castiglione dei Pepoli has a war museum dedicated to the South African 6th Armoured Division, and a special display is in the museum to Colin Eglin and his long-time  association with the town’s remembrance and historical preservation of South Africa’s fight against Nazism and Fascism – in his capacity of a long time South African MP and as a veteran of the Battle of Monte Sole himself.

The South African war museum Castiglione dei Pepoli is a jewel and must visit, to see more visit this link: Castiglione dei Pepol South African war museum

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Display dedicated to Colin Eglin at the war museum in Castiglione dei Pepoli, Italy.

In conclusion

The ‘Egg’ literally epitomised the road to democracy in South Africa. A road is anything that connects two points and Colin Eglin Road in Italy connects South Africa with Castiglione dei Pepoli in Italy, and under the title ‘Colin Eglin’ is a description in Italian ‘uomo di pace’ meaning ‘a man of peace’ – and nothing could be more descriptive of Colin Eglin and his politics.

He was a man who had seen war and chose to use peaceful means to fight Afrikaner Nationalism and Apartheid and won, eventually becoming a founding father of South Africa’s democratic constitution  – a true democrat in every sense. South Africa now has a strong set of multi-racial democrats in the form of the DA still holding African Nationalism (now in a state of racial reverse) in South Africa to account, and it’s all a result of the road Colin took.

It’s highly appropriate that a road is now named after him where his political journey started, in the midst of the mud, death and misery of Smuts’ war against despot nationalism and the South African sacrifice to rid the world of it – and it really is a very long road which begins in the mountains of Italy and continues to South Africa, even to this very day.

DA


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Work:

The Torch Commando The Torch Commando led South Africa’s first mass anti-apartheid protests, NOT the ANC!

The White Struggle The ‘White’ armed struggle against Apartheid

Large reference and thanks to Peter Elliott and his article and photographs in the Military History Journal, Vol 16 No 2 – December 2013 ‘FOREVER A PIECE OF SOUTH AFRICA’  A return to the area of Monte Sole in the Italian Apennines By Peter Elliott.

References also include ‘Tony Leon remembers great soldier Colin Eglin’ by Tony Leon Colin Eglin’s speech Presented to the Cape Town Press Club A TRIBUTE TO COLIN EGLIN – HELEN SUZMAN FOUNDATION – Peter Soal , December 2013

My sincere thanks to the curators of the South African Military Museum at Castiglione dei Pepoli for the personal tour, insights and assistance, especially to Mauro Fogacci.

A bad ‘driver’ and an equally bad ‘siren’ suit

Looking at this image I’m reminded of two things not known to many people about Smuts and Churchill and both are equally bad.  That Winston Churchill invented some bizarre things, including the rather unflattering ‘siren suit’ and Jan Smuts as a family man, whose entire family would vanish whenever he got close to his automobile.

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Taken on the 23rd August, 1942 in the gardens of the British Embassy, Cairo, this photo shows Winston Churchill in his infamous siren suit and wearing yet another odd hat.  The small boy is Victor Lampson, the son of the British Ambassador to Egypt, who seems uncertain as to whether he wants to pose for Jan Smuts’ camera (seen in his left hand) as Churchill looks on in cheerful mood. Photo: Birmingham Mail and Post

Jan Smuts and automobiles 

So, lets kick off with Jan Smuts’ ability to make his family collectively disappear whenever he proposed driving them somewhere in his car.  Simply put, this Reformer, Prime Minister, Lawyer, Philosopher, Military Strategist and Botanist – with all his unsurpassed intelligence just could not get his great intellect around the simple idea of safely driving a modern automobile.

Smuts used to head off from his home in Irene, just outside Pretoria, with his grandchildren on the back seat of his car.  Whilst driving along some or other interesting idea would enter his mind and he would take his hands off the steering wheel, turn around – taking his eyes off the road completely and address the kids on the back seat on the subject at hand.  Much to the collective terror of everyone in the car except Smuts, the car would then veer off the road and careen into the veldt and fields until Smuts paid attention to it again and brought it back onto the road.

So whenever Smuts proposed going anywhere in the car, with him driving it, his family, in fear of their lives would suddenly make themselves very scarce.  Clearly he was more comfortable riding a horse, which by all accounts during the Second Anglo-Boer War he was very good at.

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Jan Smuts’ Cars – taken at the Smuts House Museum near Pretoria. The black car is his 1946 Cadillac which he used when he was Prime Minister. The other car looks like a 1948 Buick, photo thanks to Brian Parson.

Thank you to Philip Weyers, Jan Smuts’ great grandson, for that interesting insight into his family.

Winston Churchill and siren suits 

As to another intellectual giant, Sir Winston Churchill, note Winston Churchill’s “siren suit” and wide-brimmed hat (he loved hats) which he used when resting to totter around the garden in, building walls, painting but he also unabashedly wore them meeting Presidents, Cabinet Ministers and Generals.

Similar in style to boiler suits or overalls worn by many workers including mechanics, brick layers and tank crews to protect their standard clothing, the ‘siren suit’ was a more upmarket version of a boiler suit and is said to be invented by Churchill as an original leisure suit in the 1930s.

Churchill played a large part in popularising his all-in-one suit as an item of clothing during World War 2, wearing it regularly, including when meeting other important people such as U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower and even Joseph Stalin.

During the Second World War it was marketed as a one-piece garment for the whole body which is easily put on or taken off, originally designed for use on the way to and whilst in air-raid shelters. The suit solved the problems of warmth and modesty encountered when seeking shelter during night-time air raids.  It was said to be roomy and could be put on over night-clothes quickly when an imminent air raid was announced by the city’s warning sirens.  Hence the term ‘Siren Suit’.

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They are perhaps more commonly associated with pop starlets and reality television stars – but the true pioneer of the onesie was Winston Churchill. Photo Life Magazine

Winston Churchill had a number of these gormless ‘onesie’ siren suits, and some of them were even designed for him by the best tailors of his time – a pin stripe version which he wore during the war years and then for portraits was made by Oscar Nemon and Frank O. Salisbury.   After the war in the 1950s another siren suit, made of bottle-green velvet, was created for him by Turnbull & Asser. It is also claimed that Austin Reed made a siren suit for him.

In Conclusion

So there you have it, the awful ‘onesie’ was pioneered by Winston Churchill and Jan Smuts was an awful ‘driver’. For all the intellectual brilliance both these men represented, both men were just that – men, and they both had the usual flawed human traits and odd quirks.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Posts and Links

Churchill and Smuts on D-Day: Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill and D-Day

Churchill and Smuts’ friendship: Churchill’s Desk

A Mountain of a Man – Literally! Mount Smuts

We know that Jan Smuts around the world has a Kibbutz named after him in Israel, but did you know he also a Mountain named after him?  This ‘mountain’ of a South African, with his love for Botany, Nature and Mountain hiking in addition to his credentials as Statesman, Philosopher, Reformer, Lawyer, Botanist and Warrior  – also has his own Mountain – and its located in the Canadian Rockies.

It is for good reason that Smuts has a mountain in his name, he once said of his love for mountains when unveiling the Mountain Club War Memorial at Maclear’s Beacon on the summit of Table Mountain in 1923;

“The Mountain is not merely something eternally sublime. It has a great historical and spiritual meaning for us … From it came the Law, from it came the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. We may truly say that the highest religion is the Religion of the Mountain”

Canadian Rockies – Mount Smuts

A number of peaks in the Canadian Rockies in the vicinity of Kananaskis Lakes in Canada carry the names of Admirals, Generals and others directly related to the military during the two World Wars.

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Mount Smuts is exceptional and very special as it was named after a Field Marshal and Prime Minister of South Africa who had a very special feeling for mountains. For this reason it was argued that Mount Smuts is a particularly appropriate name for a mountain peak, and this honour does not only extend to the mountain peak, the peak is located between the upper Spray River Valley and Smuts Creek Valley and the North buttress to Mount Smuts is also named Smuts Pass.

Mount Smuts is also not for the weak hearted, the mere mention of this peak is enough to make a serious mountain scrambler weak in the knees. This peak is debatably the most difficult scramble in the Canadian Rockies as it represents more of a mountain ascend than a scramble, many climbers attest its closer to an Alpine lower 5th class rated climb.  For a fit climber the accent time takes 5 hours and the total trip time about 8 to 10 hours.   The peak stands at 2940 meters.

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View of Mount Smuts from Smuts Pass

The ‘Oubaas’ liked a challenge in his mountain scrambles – Smuts would disappear for hours on end with long treks in the wilderness and he climbed Table Mountain more than 70 times, even at the age of 70. There is no doubt Smuts would have sprung at the opportunity to climb Mount Smuts and disappear for a day to do it.

Holism and Mountains 

Consider this when reviewing Smuts and his attraction to Mountains. As a young boy Jan Smuts had a mystical experience on the Riebeek-Kasteel mountain top (near the farm on which he was born in the Western Cape). He described it as a feeling of complete unity with all of nature around him.

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Jan Smuts on Table Mountain, South Africa

Jan Smuts experienced his surrounding nature so intimately that it felt like an extension of himself. And yet he experienced at the same time a distinct sense of ‘self’.  It was this idea of ‘transcendental self’ that was to form the base of his philosophy of holism.  To Smuts, the ‘transcendental self’ was the tendency of nature to cohere into greater hierarchies of unified wholes. The holistic process would culminate in its fullest expression in the human personality.  To this revelation on a mountain top Smuts once said:

“When I was young I saw a light, and I have followed that light ever since.”

His focus on unification of wholes led Smuts to reconcile the Boer and British nations after the bitterness of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. It would cumulate in the Union of South Africa in 1910, to bring together the former Boer Republics of Transvaal (ZAR Republic) and Orange Free State into union with the former British Colonies of the Cape Colony and Natal. Smuts went further with holism and the unification of wholes when he advocated the transformation of the British Empire into a Commonwealth of self-governing Nations to King George VI (ending the ideals of ‘Empire’ – in fact Smuts coined the phrase ‘Commonwealth of nations’). This same philosophy of joining wholes led to the formation of the League of Nations after World War 1, and subsequently in the formation of the United Nations after World War 2. It was this simple ‘epiphany’ on a mountain top as a boy that ultimately led Smuts to draft he Preamble to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

To his ideals on mountains and holism, on the 25th February 1923 during the unveiling of a memorial to members of the Mountain Club who had fallen in the 1st World War (1914 -1918) on top of Table Mountain, Smuts gave a landmark speech titled ‘The Religion of the Mountain”, take the time to read it in full, it’s a lesson to humankind.

The Religion of the Mountain

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Contemporary statue of Jan Smuts at the Company’s Garden, Cape Town

The Mountain is not merely something externally sublime. It has a great historical and spiritual meaning for us. It stands for us as the ladder of life. Nay, more, it is the great ladder of the soul, and in a curious way the source of religion. From it came the Law, from it came the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. We may truly say that the highest religion is the Religion of the Mountain.

What is that religion? When we reach the mountain summits we leave behind us all the things that weigh heavily down below on our body and our spirit. We leave behind a feeling of weakness and depression; we feel a new freedom, a great exhilaration, an exaltation of the body no less than of the spirit. We feel a great joy.

The Religion of the Mountain is in reality the religion of joy, of the release of the soul from the things that weigh it down and fill it with a sense of weariness, sorrow and defeat. The religion of joy realises the freedom of the soul, the soul’s kinship to the great creative spirit, and its dominance over all the things of sense. As the body has escaped from the over- weight and depression of the sea, so the soul must be released from all sense of weariness, weakness and depression arising from the fret, worry and friction of our daily lives. We must feel that we are above it all, that the soul is essentially free, and in freedom realises the joy of living. And when the feeling of lassitude and depression and the sense of defeat advances upon us, we must repel it, and maintain an equal and cheerful temper.

We must fill our daily lives with the spirit of joy and delight. We must carry this spirit into our daily lives and tasks. We must perform our work not grudgingly and as a burden imposed upon, but in a spirit of cheerfulness, goodwill and delight in it. Not only on the mountain summits of life, not only on the heights of success and achievement, but down in the deep valleys of drudgery, of anxiety and defeat, we must cultivate the great spirit of joyous freedom and upliftment of the soul.

We must practise the Religion of the Mountain down in the valleys also.

This may sound like a hard doctrine, and it may be that only after years of practise are we able to triumph in spirit over the things that weigh and drag us down. But it is the nature of the soul, as of all life, to rise, to overcome, and finally attain complete freedom and happiness. And if we consistently practise the Religion of the Mountain we must succeed in the end. To this great end Nature will co-operate with the soul.

The mountains uphold us and the stars beckon to us. The mountains of our lovely land will make a constant appeal to us to live the higher life of joy and freedom. Table Mountain, in particular, will preach this great gospel to the myriads of toilers in the valley below. And those who, whether members of the Mountain Club or not, make a habit of ascending her beautiful slopes in their free moments, will reap a rich reward not only in bodily health and strength, but also in an inner freedom and purity, in an habitual spirit of delight, which will be the crowning glory of their lives.

May I express the hope that in the years to come this memorial will draw myriads who live down below to breathe the purer air and become better men and women. Their spirits will join with those up here, and it will make us all purer and nobler in spirit and better citizens of the country.

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In Conclusion

Mount Smuts can be located at 50.8075N -115.387W for anyone wanting to find it – a Mountain which represents a man who was a mountain in his own right.  He once said of holism;

“(Concerning) the principles of holism…in this universe we are all members of one another…selfishness is the grand refusal and denial of life.”

Its a magnificent lesson and a great tribute.

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Mount Smuts in the Canadian Rockies

Related Work and Links:

Jan Smuts’ Kibbutz A Kibbutz called Jan Smuts

Jan Smuts’ Barracks Smuts Barracks; Berlin

Jan Smuts Life “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Reference, ‘Peakfinder’ Your source of information on the Peaks of the Canadian Rockiesby Dave Birrell and Politics today – exploring Jan Smuts’​ transformative ‘Religion of the Mountain’​ by Claudius van Wyk.  Photo credit ‘Our Journey’ Blog and Peakfinder.  A special thanks to Rheiner Weitz who brought this to our attention.