A simple thank you would be nice!

This is a letter of thanks from Field Marshal Jan Smuts sent to every single South African who served in the armed forces during World War 2.  It formed part of his demobilisation debrief . This particular one belongs to my Grandfather – Sgt. Albert Edwin Dickens – and he cherished it so much that it survives to this day.

A simple thank you goes a very long way, decades later I was to serve in the South African Defence Force as a conscript and no such thank you letter was ever given to me – not even so much as a verbal thanks let alone in writing.  Not just me, generally thousands of South Africans called into service of country as conscripts (and even permanent force) received nothing for it by way of a thank you, or even a simple demobilisation debrief in many cases.

Some units in the ‘old’ SADF were a little better than others and some have received thanks from Unit, Regiment, Corps, Squadron, Ship or Battalion commanders, some even received a formalised demobilisation debrief, but many did not (in fact most).  As a result many South African military veterans are now left with deep-seated disgruntled attitude of “what was it all for”.  My Grandfather and his generation of military veterans had no such dilemma.

This simple letter of thanks from the Prime Minister goes a long way to demonstrate the vast difference in attitude between South African forces operated under the Union under Smuts as opposed to those who operated under the National Party.  It is not only the Nationalists, in 1994, I volunteered to remain with the newly formatted SANDF as a Reservist and to date have not received anything from a State President of South Africa or anyone else by way of a simple thanks.

Perhaps there is a lesson to the current SANDF to invest in a simple personalised pro-forma letter.   It will go a very long way to install pride and purpose in someone who has risked their life to serve in a South African uniform.

As is very much the custom in the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, when next you see a SADF or SANDF military veteran on parade or veteran members of the South African Legion of Military Veterans and MOTH collecting funds for poppies of remembrance or participating in charitable contribution – be sure to walk up to them, shake their hands and give them a simple thank you, it will mean the world to them – because to date there is a very good chance nobody else has.

Capt. Peter Albert Dickens (retired)

‘Bake-off’ South African style!

The politics of the jam tart. At one stage the politics of division between Jan Smuts’  politics of reconciliation’ and Barry Hertzog’s ‘politics of separation’ even entered into the kitchen, and this is one very hot political cup cake.

In 1924 during the General Election women showed their political support from the kitchen. During this time the little jam tart in honour of JBM Hertzog or the ‘Hertzoggie’ started to grace the tea tables of staunch  National Party supporting women.

Going head to head in the bake off with a jam tart of their own, women supporting Jan Smuts’ South African Party came up with the ‘Smutsie’ or the Jan Smuts Cookie (also known as a General Smuts cookie).

The irony is that they are baked in nearly the same way with an apricot jam filling, the difference is in the topping. The Smutsie cookie has a creamed butter and sugar topping (similar to a penuche frosting) whereas a Hertzoggie has a much paler macaroon-style of topping made of egg white and coconut.

It is said that those supporting the one style of cookie refused to bake or eat the opponents offering.  Such was the intense political rivalry and deep division between the two.

The recipe of the Smutsie seems to have varied over time and from what I can see the Sugar Butter topping has been lost from more recent recipes, whereas the Hertzoggie has been quite popular and commonly found. So, here’s a challenge to the bake-off enthusiasts out there – rejuvenate the Smutsie with its original topping!

This is one for the ‘The Great South African Bake-off  2017’ challenge I would love to see, one half doing a take on the Hertzoggie using ‘ouma se resepte’ and the other half sprinting around the kitchen frantically stealing each others recipes trying to figure out a Smutsie.  All the while both groups shout ‘veraaier’ at one another.  How South African is that!

A Smutsie with a penuche frosting as a topping, now that’s the Smutsie for me …. although I am told that a Hertzoggie made on a braai (yup, a braai – believe it) is to die for. As a ‘Soutie’ married to a ‘Boertjie’ to keep peace in the house I might just find the safe political middle ground and go with her excellent Springbok rugby player inspired  … Jan Ellis Pudding.

A Kibbutz called Jan Smuts

Did you know that Jan Smuts has a kibbutz named after him because of his support in founding the state of Israel, and that this kibbutz was at the centre of the 1948 Arab Israeli War (or sometimes known as the Israeli War of Independence)?

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The Balfour Declaration

Jan Smuts was a supporter of the Balfour Declaration, first adopted in November of 1917 and then again reaffirmed in 1922 in the League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine which set forth British policy towards the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.

Smuts became personal friends with Chaim Weitzman, who would go on to become the first President of Israel and Smuts and he saw to it that his government voted in the United Nations in support of the creation of the State of Israel. As a consequence of this a Kibbutz near Haifa is named after him, Ramat Yohanan.

Smuts’ relationship with the idea of a Jewish state started when South African supporters of Theodor Herzl contacted Smuts in 1916. It was in London that met and became friends with Chaim Weizmann, the President of the Zionist Organization. Weizmann went on to become the first President of Israel. He was elected on 16 February 1949, and served until his death in 1952.

In 1943 Weizmann wrote to Smuts, detailing a plan to develop Britain’s African colonies to compete with the United States – essentially a United States of Southern Africa – something which appealed to Jan Smut’s ideology of “Union” of former colonies and states in Africa for the greater good of all (his philosophy of Holism at work).

When South Africa became a “union” in 1910 it was originally envisaged that Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana) and Southern Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe) would also form part of the newly created South Africa.

Political manoeuvring (mainly by the British) meant it was not to be and South Africa forged ahead as a union of the British Colonies of the Cape and Natal and the two Boer Republics – the Orange Free State and Transvaal (South African Republic) only. The idea of a regional superpower union was never really lost though and only fully put to bed when the National Party came to power in 1948 effectively ending any further union ideas with commonwealth countries in Southern Africa.

During his service as Premier, Smuts also personally fundraised for multiple Zionist organisations.

Now to Ramat Yohanan (Hebrew: רָמַת יוֹחָנָן, meaning Yohanan Heights), a kibbutz in northern Israel, named after the then South African Prime Minister and wartime leader – Jan Smuts.

It was the location of the Battle of Ramat Yohanan during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. In April 1948, The Druze Regiment of the Arab Liberation Army was engaged by Jewish Haganah soldiers in a hard fought battle at the kibbutz.

The Druze attacked Ramat Yohanan and other neighbouring kibbutzim in order to try to take the roads leading to Haifa. The attack was unsuccessful and the Druze withdrew to their base in Shefa-‘Amr with a high number of casualties, this action led to a non-aggression treaty which was signed by the Haganah with the Druze. Throughout the kibbutz, there are still scattered defence towers used by the kibbutz to defend itself.

The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization operating in the then British Mandate of Palestine, which went on to become the core of the Israel Defence Force (IDF).

As an interesting fact, in 1941, Yitzhak Rabin joined the Palmach section of the Haganah during his stay at Jan Smuts’ kibbutz – Ramat Yohanan. He was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, serving two terms in office, 1974–77 and 1992 until his assassination in 1995.

Today, the kibbutz grows produce including mainly avocado, lychee and citrus fruits, raises both meat and dairy cattle, and is the home of a Palram plastics factory. They also produce a small quantity of olive oil and dairy products, much of which is used and sold on the kibbutz. For several years, Ramat Yochanan has run an ulpan program that serves primarily American and Russian students.

Modern day Shavout festival at Ramat Yohanan

The last official act Jan Smuts carried out before leaving office in 1948 was to recognise the independent State of Israel, fulfilling his long standing commitment to Chaim Weitzmann.

Most of Jan Smuts’ history has been downplayed significantly in the years since his death, his politics and endeavours largely glossed over by a Nationalist government and overshadowed by the implementation by the Nationalists of Apartheid in 1948.

This history lies largely forgotten to most South Africans today, but the fact remains, that other than Nelson Mandela, not too many South African leaders since Smuts have had such a presence and role in shaping world politics as we know it today,

The featured image today shows Jan Smuts and Chaim Weitzmann and early IDF soldiers using adapted South African designed and manufactured Marmon-Herrington Armoured Cars – as well the flag raising of the Israeli flag once independence was fully established.

Jan Smuts drafted the Preamble to the United Nations Charter

Imposing photograph of Jan Smuts at the San Francisco Conference in 1945 – the historic conference which founded the United Nations (UN).

One of Jan Smuts’ last acts as the Prime Minister for South Africa was the establishment of the United Nations. In fact he wrote the original opening lines of the Preamble to the United Nations Charter as …

“The High Contracting Parties, determined to prevent a recurrence of the fratricidal strife which twice in our generation has brought untold sorrow and loss upon mankind..”

Not only did Smuts do the first draft of the Preamble to the United Nations Charter, he also played a key role in putting together the United Nations Charter itself. Smuts even presided over the first meeting of Commission II, General Assembly of the United Nations on 30 May 1945, held at the San Francisco Opera House.

Jan Smuts was also present at the historic signing ceremony of the United Nations Charter on the 26th June 1945 and signed the Charter on behalf of South Africa.

 

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Subsequent to these historic meetings and ceremonies in San Francisco the Charter and United Nations as we know it came into full existence on the 24 October 1945.

Now, this was truly one of South Arica’s most philanthropic leaders, a man years ahead of his time, only to have his legacy tarnished by successive political posturing after his death five years later in 1950, which continues even to this day.

By the time of Smuts’ death in 1950, even the United Nations, which South Africa had played such a pivot role in establishing in 1945, was at loggerheads with the “new” South African Nationalist government which came to power over Smuts’ party in 1948.   From that date onward the United Nations started to pass resolution after resolution in damnation of the then newly elected National Party’s policy of Apartheid.

During the next 46 years in the United Nations, South Africa went from the heady heights of a founding signatory of The United Nations to the lows of a pariah state – and this forever diminished and damaged South Africa’s influence in the United Nations and as a leader in future global politics. Something Jan Smuts even foresaw in 1948 and warned the country against, but to no avail.

However, history is the ultimate decider and Jan Smut’s track record of achievements cements the simple fact that he remains one of the greatest men the country has ever produced.

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Jan Smuts’ signature 

Witnessing a true statesman, Jan Smuts addressing the British Parliament – 1942

Field Marshal Jan Smuts, at the invitation of Winston Churchill addressing both houses of the British Parliament in 1942. This speech is historic, never before was any Commonwealth Statesman given the privilege of addressing both houses of Parliament (the Commons and the Lords), and the results are astounding – not only was Smuts publicly praised by Winston Churchill at the end of his speech, the entire Parliament breaks into hoorays and sings “he’s a jolly good fellow” in praise of the man and his life’s work.

Two great South Africans have the privilege of statues outside the British Houses of Parliament in London, both having addressed this house at Westminster, and they stand in Westminster square for good reason. This was a period when Jan Smuts took his broken country from the Boer War, unified it and built it into a international powerhouse – at this occasion Smuts receives the praise due a visionary world leader.

The vast majority of both English and Afrikaans speaking South Africans backed Smuts at the time, however his legacy – like any great man’s legacy – is tainted by his opposition – The National Party, who, when they came into power served to demonise him over decades – so much so that he remains an enigma to many South Africans today. Except when you find gems like this film clip – which can bring him back into living memory.

Look out for Smut’s comments on the necessity to rid the world of Nazism, his insightful summary of Hitler’s policy in Europe and for his views on he formation of the United Nations – to which he is founding signatory.

To think that Smuts was a South African War Boer General, and both he and General Louis Botha understood that the salvation and re-building of their shattered people lay with their former enemy. Their vision of unity built South Africa from a fractious grouping of colonies and tiny states into a significant and unified nation – a regional economic power-house. The fact that his former enemy stood up in praise of this man and his achievement speaks volumes.

Jan Smuts is literally the “father of the nation” that is South Africa today and it’s a great pity he is so misunderstood. As anyone who watches this video will see, thanks to this remarkable man, South Africans by the end of World War 2 stood with heads held high, chests swollen with pride, praised by the free world and revered by great men.

History unfortunately would dramatically change course for South Africa a couple of years later, when in 1948 the National Party narrowly edged its way into power in the general elections with a proposal called Apartheid.  South Africa has swung from ‘Pariah State’ far right racial politics to ‘Junk Status’ economic leftist politics in response to the secular race politics – with very little regard for Smuts’ centralist or “centre ground” reconciliatory politics since.

Footage copyright – Pathe.

“… I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man”

Jan Smuts’ history is well documented but let me share something that is less known about the man himself.

It’s a common misconception that Jan Smuts and Mahatma Gandhi’s relationship was one of animosity. It is a little known fact that both men actually respected each other, remaining life long admirers of one another.

Gandhi tried, at all times, to look for the positive in Smuts and said of him that he had a “high place among the politicians of the British Empire and even of the world”.

Rather famously, when Gandhi finished his work in South Africa and left with his wife in July 1914, just before he departed, he sent General Smuts a gift of a pair of sandals he made himself.

Gandhi had learnt to make sandals at Tolstoy Farm, a cooperative colony he set up near Johannesburg, from which he ran his campaign of satyagraha (non-violence).

Jan Smuts wore the sandals every summer at his farm, next to the town of Irene, and then returned the sandals to Gandhi on Gandhi’s seventieth birthday, remarking:

“I have worn these sandals for many a summer, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man”.

Smuts went on to say:

“It was my fate to be the antagonist of a man for whom, even then, I had the highest respect”.

A replica of the sandals can be found at the Constitution Hill Museum in Johannesburg.  Appropriately and oddly enough a statue of Jan Smuts stands just opposite a statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Parliament Square in London, in recognition of two world visionaries and their impact in the development of the modern political sphere.

Two fellow members of The South African Legion – Churchill and Smuts

The interesting part of digging up all the “hidden” history of the South African veteran movements after World War 2, is that occasionally you come across some hidden history about the military veterans organisation which you belong to. Did you know that both Jan Smuts AND Winston Churchill are both members of the South African Legion of Military Veterans?

Well – they are. Field Marshal Jan Smuts was awarded the “Gold Life Membership Badge of the South African Legion of the BESL” in November 1945, and Sir Winston Churchill recieved the same Gold Life Membership Badge to the South African Legion in July 1948.

And here they are – two fellow Legionnaires, the two great prime ministers of Great Britain and South Africa, Prime Ministers, Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts, at the British Embassy in Cairo, 5 August 1942.

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Above is a standard South African Legion lapel Badge with “Kings crown” from the 2nd World War period.  Note BESL – which stands for the “British Empire Services League” – the South African Legion along with the Royal British Legion, Royal Canadian Legion and Returned Services League Australia are all founder members of it.  Today it is called the “Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League” (RCEL) having received recognition by the Britain’s Royal family for its work all over the world supporting destitute military veterans who have rendered service to the “crown” – including South Africa.

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Modern South African Legion badge – note the use of modern BESL the RCEL “Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League” and Queen’s Crown” for Queen Elizabeth II who is a Patron.

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Image copyright – The Imperial War Museum. Reference “Not For Ourselves” – a history of the South African Legion by Arthur Blake.