It has been an interesting couple of days with some very quick ‘damage control’ public relations statements in response to The Sunday Times’ article on the University of Cambridge’s decision to remove Jan Smuts’ bust and portrait from its public spaces. The good news in all this media spin-doctoring – reason has prevailed and we are assured the portrait and bust of Jan Smuts will remain in public view in their original places.
The Sunday Times Newspaper in London published two articles on Sunday 5 August 2018. One by Sian Griffiths the Education Editor titled “Cambridge students topple bust of Britain’s wartime ally Jan Smuts” and this was followed up by a related article by Tony Allen-Mills titled “Fall of Boer hero Jan Smuts would have made Churchill squawk”. Sian Griffiths referenced her University of Cambridge source stating that “Cambridge confirmed both Smuts pieces had been moved”.
On Monday morning 6 August 2018 The Observation Post published a blog to the above effect titled “To the University of Cambridge’s eternal shame!”. By Monday afternoon the University of Cambridge was in damage control mode and quickly published a statement to the effect that the bust and portrait are to remain in place, spinning ‘fake news’ by the Sunday Times as the rally point in an article published by Rosie Bradbury titled “Fact check: Jan Smuts portrait and bust were not ‘toppled’ by Cambridge students” in ‘Varsity’ the University of Cambridge’s official news portal.
The University of Cambridge’s joint statement from Christ’s JCR President Grace Etheredge and JCR Vice-President Oliver Jones read “general consensus has been for portraits to remain”, but that historical context of controversial figures should be added outlining “the good and bad of what they did so as to not white wash college history”.
The movement of the portrait was explained by a washy statement which read “the portrait had been temporarily taken down a few years ago, but that the College had swapped it back again.”
They went on with their spin-doctor strategy to still paint Smuts in a poor light by stating; “Smuts publicly denigrated the black population of South Africa” – which is a baseless and unsupported comment. From a balance point of view, if Cambridge was accusing the Sunday Times of peddling falsehoods, they managed to peddle a falsehood in their response, which ironically would now discredit both Cambridge and the Sunday Times in our eyes.
Now, The Sunday Times is a very well-regarded newspaper, both Sian Griffiths and Tony-Allan Mills are very reputable journalists and to date The Sunday Times has not published a retraction and have stood by their articles and their journalists, and there is something to be said for that. It is also clear that the University of Cambridge went into counter measure and damage control mode against the backlash the articles created.
To make sure, the Observation Post approached the Smuts family for clarity, and we are assured that the portrait and bust are currently in their rightful place. We trust and hope that the University takes on board the very negative backlash from the broader community that it serves when considering removing portraits again and continues to be leader in history that it is and serves to honour the people who have served it – especially Jan Smuts.
In this we are glad that for the time being the University has avoided succumbing to the new trend to ‘Revolutionist history’ touted by far left radical ‘anti-colonial’ students. Finally – Reason has prevailed in what has been a sea of insanity, caused by a very violent counter-history movement in South Africa, the ripple effect of which is now spilling over to the Old Schools. We ‘doff’ our caps to the University of Cambridge for rectifying and/or maintaining its artworks of Jan Smuts, whichever way it may be.
To the eternal shame of the University of Cambridge, the bust and portrait of Britain’s wartime ally and its first real foreign Chancellor – Jan Smuts – was removed from public view at Christ’s College. It’s an act of political correctness gone all wrong, and a foreboding sign of things to come – The University of Cambridge has fallen foul of its own history and Jonathan Swift’s quote rings true “Some men when weeding out prejudices, eradicate virtue, honesty and religion”.
Field Marshal Jan Smuts
Cowering to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall ‘campaigners – a bunch of zealot, racist and militant far left radicals based in South Africa who very controversially removed the statue of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue from the University of Cape Town, the University of Cambridge has now capitulated and quietly removed the portrait and bust of Field Marshal Jan Smuts from their public spaces and insidiously placed them out of sight.
The act of removing Smuts came from pressure from a bunch of ‘anti-colonial’ students – and since removing Smuts from the public area of the Old Schools building, which houses the main university offices, the Old Schools has carried posters from the first election after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 – making an anti-apartheid political statement.
So what’s odd about this act? For starters Jan Smuts and his party were the opposition party to the National Party and their tenets of Apartheid, so they have got the history completely wrong and have incorrectly painted Smuts with an Apartheid brush. The University of Cambridge simply does not even understand the history and has bowed to a skew and incorrect version been banded about buy these ‘anti-colonial’ students.
So what’s wrong with being an anti-colonial student and banishing statues of Colonialism in England? Well, if we agree this precedent we’ll have to remove every single statue of every single great British and Colonial icon involved in Imperialism and Colonialism. It’s a foreboding sign when a leading learning institution like the University of Cambridge does this and sets the precedent.
The same group of zealot anti-colonial students a year or so ago attempted to get Cecil John Rhodes’ statue removed from Oxford University and we rightly told to get lost – but not the University of Cambridge, they have succumbed to this growing modern trend of re-writing history with 21st Century hindsight and removing those bits they think are ‘offensive’ from it.
So whose next? Winston Churchill cut his political teeth in South Africa and was the Colonial Secretary who along with Smuts ushered in the newly formed state of South Africa, with all its 19th Century Imperialist tenets and race laws, stamped by The House of Commons. Do we now remove statues of Winston Churchill? But why stop at Churchill? What about all the other British Colonialists involved in South Africa – Sir Alfred Milner, Sir John Cradock, Sir John Sprigg, John Xavier Merriman, Lord Charles Somerset, Lord Kitchener, Field Marshal Buller, Lord Roberts and even Field Marshal Haig.
Jan Smuts shoulder to shoulder with King George VI, the Queen Mother and the future Queen Elizabeth II
But why even stop at the Colonial ‘masters’ of South Africa and the Field Marshal’s of the South African War (1899-1902)? What about the Royalty who guided colonial policy in South Africa? So lets remove Queen Victoria, King George V, King George VI and even Queen Elizabeth II who was the reigning monarch when South Africa was still a Union and the country fell under her dominion. In 1947 preceding her father’s death, King George VI and Princess Elizabeth visited South Africa to give support to Jan Smuts and his government (and to give support to Smuts for the landmark 1948 General Elections so as to prevent the Apartheid nationalists from taking power and losing South Africa as a Dominion in the Commonwealth of Nations – which unfortunately for all of us the Apartheid Nationalists won).
Smuts’ acceptance speech after he was made a Chancellor at the University of Cambridge
The academic elite at the University of Cambridge are at best very naive, even as to their own academic history of Jan Smuts. Smuts was elected the University of Cambridge’s Chancellor in 1948 and a memorial fund in his name was set up when he died two years later. As Cambridge Chancellor he was the first ‘foreign’ Chancellor of the University not of Royal stock in its very long history of 800 years.
Aside from a Prime Minister and British Field Marshal, Smuts was also an accredited philosopher, his work on Holism brought him high acclaim from his Philosopher peers. Holism can be defined as “the fundamental factor operative towards the creation of wholes in the universe” and was published in 1926. For Smuts it formed the grounding behind his concepts of the League of Nations and United Nations – both institutions he helped form.
Whilst studying law at Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge, he was rated as one of the top three students they have ever had (Christ’s College is nearly 600-year-old). The other two were John Milton and Charles Darwin. Smuts graduated from Christ’s College with a first-class degree in law in 1894 and is regarded as the brightest legal mind ever to read law at the University of Cambridge.
His intellect was unsurpassed, to pass an exam at Cambridge he learnt Greek (fluently) in just 6 days. His wife was no intellectual slouch either, later in life Jan Smuts and his wife ‘Ouma’ Smuts used to tease one another when one would recite a Bible verse and the other would be expected to recite the following one, from memory, in Greek!
The University of Cambridge’s ‘Smuts Memorial Fund’ was established after the death of Jan Smuts to support the advancement of Commonwealth Studies. A range of funding opportunities are available to both staff and students for this purpose including research grants, PhD scholarships and library grants. A number of Fellowships across the University are supported by the Fund including the Smuts Visiting Research Fellowship. It is with extreme irony that some of these ‘anti-colonial’ students are supported in their studies and funded by the very man whose memory they eradicate. Talk about hypocrisy – there it is right there!
The removal of Rhodes’ statue from UCT by the same student movement. The Rhodes foundation is a primary financial supporter of the University and also issues Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford University to disadvantaged students.
Whats next for the academia line up of the University of Cambridge’s Chancellors whose pasts are tainted by a British Imperialist upbringing and held the mainstream views at the time on race – or better still those Royal Chancellors who promoted serfdom and servitude under Royal rule prior to historical reformations? By the time they have finished removing all these Chancellors who reigned over the last 800 odd years of the University of Cambridge – the University will be bare of any history.
But what about Smuts’ unwavering support of the United Kingdom when it was at its own urgent crisis. Smuts took South Africa to war in support of Great Britain in both World War 1 and World War 2, the result is sacrifice from South Africa to retain the United Kingdom’s sovereignty and modern democracy – sacrifice of literally tens of thousands of South Africans in battlefields all over the world, lying along-side their British comrades in arms – the cold headstones of the Commonwealth War Grave’s Commission stand solemnly in testament. All done in honour of Smuts’ commitment to democracy, liberty and humanity.
Without Smuts the United Kingdom would not have the original founder of the Royal Air Force, which celebrates it centenary this year, it would not have the Statesman who stood shoulder to shoulder with Winston Churchill on D-Day and the liberation of Europe, the very man who tempered and guided Churchill and acted as the King’s liaison at the most critical phase of the war. Smuts even came up with the concept of Commonwealth of Nations and guided King George VI and Great Britain out of its edicts of ‘Empire’ when dealing with a ‘new world’ Commonwealth and its Colonies post war.
Smuts was the only foreign Statesman to receive a standing round of applause from both houses of Parliament and the first foreign statesman to address both houses – there is very good reason that his statue stands next to Churchill’s on Parliament Square. Has the United Kingdom completely lost sense of its history and politics, and now bows to a small and vocal bunch of ‘anti-colonial’ students – the tail wagging the dog? It seems so.
What happened to open debate in a University environment? Where all stakeholders are consulted and put their arguments forward before a key decision is made on the removal of a historical figure, a leading University like the University of Cambridge made no such effort to approach the Smuts foundation and family in South Africa. Instead a unilateral decision was taken by a minority of elitist academics imposing their views on others, now that is not the ‘open’ and democratic society which the University is meant to represent.
The University’s official response reads like a piece of political correct pandering. The response from the university’s governing council: “In retrospect, there are often once-lauded ideas and individuals whose standing, reputation and behaviour assume different and usually uncomfortable contemporary significance.”
Again – whose next in the ‘uncomfortable’ figures from the past who lauded ideas not palatable in a modern context, Churchill called Gandhi a “Half Naked Fakir”.
The removal of Smuts at the University of Cambridge is an offence to the thousands of South African men and women who have sacrificed their lives to serve crown in South African forces, and the tens of thousands of South Africans who also served in British Armed Forces. It is the darkest day in the University’s history when it expunged its own heritage in the name of ill-considered political correctness and disgraces an entire generation of South Africans who held Smuts’ ideals of liberty and freedom in their hearts. It is a warning to come – shame on Christ’s College and shame on the University of Cambridge.
Written by Peter Dickens
Reference: The Sunday Times Sian Griffiths, Education Editor The Sunday Times “Cambridge students topple bust of Britain’s wartime ally Jan Smuts”