Jan Smuts

In August 2020, a Blue Plaque was unveiled at Swartruggens on the 120th anniversary of the siege of the Elands River Post. It commemorates the remarkable resilience of a small garrison of Australians and Rhodesians during the South African War. General Jan Smuts, who took part on the Boer side, described it thus:

It is almost inconceivable to think the South African Air Force (SAAF) was established when T. E. Lawrence was still working on his much acclaimed biographical Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a history of the Arab Revolt during the First World War. Yet, this was indeed the case when Prime Minister Jan Smuts on 1 February 1920 appointed Lieutenant Colonel Sir Pierre van Ryneveld ‘Director of Air Services’ in the Union Defence Force (UDF).

In May 1900, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, was poised to culminate his illustrious military career by marching triumphantly into his enemy’s capital city and concluding the South African War. But it was a charade. There could be no victory without a vanquished foe and the Boer leaders were still at large with a fighting remnant of their army. Another two bitter years of warfare lay ahead.

 

This commemorative booklet on the life of General Jan Christiaan Smuts was found at the Hospice Witwatersrand charity shop on Louis Botha Avenue, Orange Grove, about two years ago. The sale of donated items helps Hospice Witwatersrand fund their hospice activities throughout Gauteng. The Orange Grove charity shop is a place where one can discover a wide range of interesting and useful items, and often, the items donated reflect a by-gone era. Having visited the Smuts House Museum in Irene on several occasions over the years, I decided this was the obvious place t

JC Smuts was born on the farm Bovenplaats, part of Ongegund near Riebeek West, in the then Cape Colony, and what is now the Western Cape, to parents Jacobus Abraham and Catharina Petronella (nee de Vries) on 24 May 1870.

 

The military art collection of the Ditsong National Museum of Military History includes a watercolour entitled, “HMS Kelvin – D-Day +6” by Francis Flint. The painting is noteworthy in that it portrays three important personalities of the Second World War (1939 – 1945) – Sir Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom); Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) and Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts (Prime Minster of the Union of South Africa).

Many commentators have written about the guns falling silent in Europe on 11 November 1918 and the reasons we should be remembering 100 years on. For South Africa and other African countries though, the war continued until 25 November 1918 when the Germans finally lay down their arms at Abercorn, today’s Mbala.

September was Heritage Month but here I was in October invited to spend a weekend at Kedar Heritage Lodge to join the celebrations for the unveiling of a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill. Why October? Why Churchill in the Bushveld? Then I remembered. Kedar is a modern reincarnation of President Kruger’s farm and country estate, Boekenhoutfontein (meaning Beech-wood Spring). Now located in the Northwest Province, it was once a jewel in the Transvaal Republic.

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