How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
ON MAY 24, 1950, General Jan Christian Smuts became 80. General Smuts' political followers alone celebrated his eightieth birthday. As he could not be everywhere on the same day, May 23 was allotted to Johannesburg, the 24th to Pretoria, and later days to Capetown and Durban. No day was allotted to Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, because General Smuts has only one Parliamentary follower in the Free State and not many other supporters, and the celebrations were not national, they were partisan. No member of the government sat or stood beside him to wish him a few more years of life. That was the position after General Smuts had striven for a Union of Brothers in South Africa, a Union of States in the Commonwealth, a League of Nations, a United Nations.
But it was his friends, not his political opponents, who all but made it his last birthday. May is winter in South Africa. Before coming to Johannesburg, General Smuts had had not only a pressure on his sciatic nerve which for seven months had given him the greatest pain, he said, he had ever known in his life; he had also, within the last few days, had a strange new pain in his chest.
On May 23, the Rand had its first white frost. Not wearing an overcoat or hat, General Smuts arrived from his farm, 35 miles away, to drive through the streets of Johannesburg; made a speech indoors on being given the freedom of the city; stood outside the City Hall on a dais, which was formed like a birthday cake, with 80 great candles, and made another speech.
Next day, on his farm, he found the well-wishers more exhausting than the functions of the day before. He lasted through an open-air rally and a Party ball in Pretoria. He thought next day he would find peace and warmth in the bushveld and insisted on driving the 80 miles himself. Suddenly there was the news that he was not going to Capetown, not going to Durban, not flying to England to present degrees at Cambridge University, of which he is Chancellor. He was very ill.
It appeared cumulatively that he had pneumonia, two embolisms of the lung, weakness of the heart, and on top of all a mysterious unyielding temperature which, in the end, was found to be a recurrence of the malaria he had got in East Africa, fighting there during the First World War. He was, after all, human; he was mortal. So long General Smuts had been a part of South Africa; so long he had stood to the world for South Africa--he had been so ready, so eager, to do the work of 20 men--how could it all at once happen that 80 was 80, even for General Smuts?
But, after seven weeks, there he was again on the verandah outside the little room he wants for his bedroom (as at his official residence in Pretoria, he chose, when he was Prime Minister, a valet's room): so weak, though, that even his children might rarely see him, but alive, interested in life and going to live.
It was in the middle of June, when his recovery seemed unlikely, that the news appeared of his retirement as leader of the Opposition, and that he wanted J. G. N. Strauss to succeed him. One said J. G. N Strauss, as one said J. C. Smuts, as one said J. H. Hofmeyr. They all had the name of Jan. For years Jan Hofmeyr had been Smuts' political heir. But Hofmeyr was stigmatized as a Kaffir-Boetie--a Little Brother of the Kaffirs--and this had lost the United Party the election of 1948 which had been fought, as are most Union elections, on the color question; and, six months later, overworked, overwhelmed by the contumely of foes and the recrimination of friends, he had died of a thrombosis of the heart.
So now Strauss, at one time Smuts' private secretary, a man of quiet wisdom, high integrity and unquestioned loyalty to Smuts, was the man in Hofmeyr's place, was the man to succeed Smuts. Not all Smuts' parliamentary followers wished to follow Strauss who was 50 but looked 35, while some of them were 60 and 70. But, not to break the Party, they agreed to do so.
The people of South Africa who were not Smuts' enemies felt suddenly how small South Africa would look to the world without Smuts; and perhaps even his enemies in their hearts felt it. Could they fail to know that kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers and scholars and soldiers everywhere in the great world held, ever had held, ever would hold, no other South African so high as Smuts; and that South Africa itself stood in a higher place than it would have done had it not stood on the shoulders of Smuts?
So why did not all the Afrikaners of the country, why did only a small part of them, wish to honor the last living leader of the Boer War, the closest friend of Kruger, after whom they were going to call a day in South Africa's calendar? The story goes back a long way.
The story goes back to 1652. In 1652, the Dutch East India Company, under the House of Orange, made a trading concern of the Cape, and only five years later Dutch farmers proclaimed themselves Free Burgers, want zij gheen compagnie's slaven willen wezen--since they wished to be no company's slaves. Within another 30 years persecuted French Huguenots came and were soon absorbed by the Dutch. And these Dutch-French people were not the sort of people to tolerate the harsh dominance of the Company and kept moving--trekking--away.
Holland followed France into revolution in the 1790's, and when, in 1795, the Prince of Orange, a fugitive to England from revolutionary Holland, asked the English to guard the Cape from Napoleon, the English became the heirs of the hated Dutch East India Company. They inherited the hate that, for 150 years, had burdened the Dutch India Company. Eight years later the English returned the Cape to Republican Holland under the Peace of Amiens. They took it in the way of war after the Battle of Trafalgar. They kept it under the Treaty of Vienna.
In 1800 there came the first missionaries of the London Missionary Society. The first two leaders married Hottentot girls (not entirely out of idealism) and began to preach the marriage of black and white and to charge the Boers with great cruelty toward the Kaffirs and Hottentots. They caused an inquisition (the Black Circuit) into the Boers' treatment of the blacks that exonerated the Boers but was never forgiven by them. Among the chief reasons given by the Boers for trekking away from the English on the greatest of their migrations was the odium cast on them by English missionaries.
This time they moved not east, but north, and founded two republics. One of the trekkers was Paul Kruger, a boy of ten. People have always found it hard to resist taking a big land occupied only by savages. International law permitted it. In due course, Kruger became President of the Transvaal, considered that it had to be "from the Zambesi to Simon's Bay, Afrika for the Afrikaner," and walked into Bechuanaland.
There he met another of those English missionaries who spoke of the Boers' cruelty to natives, and this one thought England ought to take over Bechuanaland to prevent such practices. There was someone else, however, who wanted Bechuanaland, "the key to the north." He wanted it for the Cape; he wanted it for a plan he had "for the furtherance of the British Empire, for the making of the Anglo-Saxon race into one Empire;" but he did not want any "amateur meddling" from "irresponsible and illadvised persons" thousands of miles away; Cecil John Rhodes wanted to take South Africa according to his own system.
Though the son of a parson, he also did not like missionaries. In fact, the sort of people he liked and felt he could work with were the Boers. And they liked him and felt they could work with him; and particularly the first great J. H. Hofmeyr, the great-uncle of Smuts' J. H. Hofmeyr. Only Kruger did not like Rhodes. "That young man," he said, when Rhodes came interfering with him in Bechuanaland, "is going to cause me trouble."
However, that young man in the end caused Kruger only the amusement of the Jameson Raid. It was not to the hostile Boers of the Transvaal, but to the friendly Boers of the Cape and the English in England that the Raid was a shock. The Boers of the Cape felt betrayed; the English in England felt humiliated; Kruger had the pleasure of making a lost fool of Rhodes.
Rhodes was dying when the Boer War began. It was not he, nor was it Joseph Chamberlain, it was Milner who could not bear the British in the Transvaal to be no more than "helots." He "turned the screw" until the Boers declared war.
Smuts was born in 1870, a British subject, in the Cape, the son of a Cape member of Parliament. That was the year in which diamonds were found in Kimberley.
Rhodes came to Kimberley next year and, by 1888, all the diamond mines of Kimberley were amalgamated under him and he had also a cession from the Matabele chief, Lobengula, over his lands in the north. With money from the diamonds of Kimberley, Rhodes was setting out on his enterprise of taking Africa for England. He had now also, for some time, been a Member of the Cape Parliament, and it amused him to tell his fellow members one day: "I went down to the Cape, thinking in my practical way, 'I will go and take the North.'"
It was in the great year of 1888 that Smuts first saw Rhodes. Smuts was now 18. His schooling had begun at 12; at 16 he had entered a college at Stellenbosch, a village near Capetown; he was sentimental; he was romantic; he had a giant, speedy, far-reaching, absorptive mind; he was reading the greatest writers and writing about man and liberty and such things as "Who, having felt the heartbeat of the Motherland call unto his heart, could fail to respond to the need of rivalling the heroic deeds of old Europe, perchance in nobler realms?" He saw South Africa in terms of Elizabethan England, stretching forth, spreading out, growing and growing; he saw in Rhodes an Elizabethan.
At this moment Rhodes visited Smuts' university and made a speech to which Smuts had to reply; he spoke about Elizabethan England and Rhodes decided that here was a man he could use in the British-Boer brotherhood that was to start his world enterprise. It was not destined.
By the time Smuts returned from Cambridge and London, a barrister, full of honors and with a theory of psychoanalysis set down a year before the publication of Breuer and Freud's "Studien über Hysterie," six years before the publication of Freud's "Traumdeutung"--by this time things had gone wrong with Rhodes' "bringing the whole civilized world under British rule." The diamonds were there all right that were to start him on his journey to the north; but Matabeleland had not turned out to be a second golden Transvaal. What was a man to do now, who knew he had not long to live, but take the Transvaal itself? Smuts had hardly got back from Cambridge, still full of Rhodes and Elizabethan England, when there was the Jameson Raid. Shocked, shamed and infuriated, his idol smashed, Smuts left the Cape for the Transvaal to be a Kruger man.
For some years past, Kruger had been in decline. The modern young men in the Transvaal thought him out of date. When, therefore, the brilliant young man from Cambridge, in his great revulsion from Rhodes, became his partisan, he could not advance him quickly enough. Smuts had not yet qualified to be a full burger when Kruger made him, at 28, his State Attorney. The year was 1899. It was the year of the beginning of the Boer War.
In May of 1899, Smuts went with Kruger to meet Milner in Bloemfontein. Their business had nominally to do with the question of a speedier franchise for the Uitlanders--the Outlanders, the foreigners--which Kruger felt would give all power to the English. But at last he could no longer bear the talk. He wept. "It is my country--my country--that you want."
The Boer War was not yet begun when there appeared a book called, in its English version, "A Century of Wrong." It was issued as "the official exposition of the case of the Boer against the Briton," but somehow it did not sound official: its author was Jan Christian Smuts. And, in later years, when the Boers accused Smuts of betraying them to the British, their cartoons often included in the various mockeries of Smuts, a book lying about, called "A Century of Wrong."
Except for the moving fact that "A Century of Wrong" was an appeal from a menaced nation to the conscience of the world, it had indeed features one might find somewhat amusing. In years to come Smuts learned to smile at, but never quite learned to overcome, the style of "Who, having felt the heartbeat of the Motherland." Its echoes are even in the Preamble he wrote, at 74, to the Charter of the United Nations.
"A Century of Wrong" told anew the story of the odium cast on Boers by English missionaries and England's support of the blacks against them. It described the pursuit of the trekkers even into their new republics; their annexation of the Transvaal in 1877; England's capitalism and jingoism; the Jameson Raid. It said: "In this awful turning point in the history of South Africa, on the eve of the conflict which threatens to exterminate our people, it behooves us to speak the truth in what may be perhaps our last message to the world. . . . Every sea in the world is being furrowed by ships which are conveying British troops from every corner of the globe in order to smash this little handful of people. . . ."
But this little handful, the book said again, would do to England what Greece had done to Xerxes; it would withstand Chamberlain as its forefathers had withstood Alva, Richelieu and Louis XIV. "It is ordained that we, insignificant as we are, should be the first among the peoples to begin the struggle against the new world tyranny of capitalism." The beginning and the end of the book did not quite match, yet both told the truth. There was indeed national death, for by 1902 the Boers, with 16,000 men left to fight England's 400,000, had to surrender and they lost their lands. There was national vengeance when, eight years later, the Boers, in a way, got the English colonies, the Cape and Natal.
In the war Smuts began as a general, at 29. He said later, "Everything from science to soldiering is only a matter of thought"--and so why should he not be a general? He became indeed a successful guerrilla general: his was the last success of the Boer War, and his the last shot fired. He emerged from the war, no longer a pale, weedy student, carrying in his saddle-bag a Greek Testament and Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason," but a burly, ruddy, yellow-bearded man among men, and he said in years to come that his greatest happiness in life had been to range the veld as a guerrilla leader.
Three years after the Boer War, England became very excited over what the Liberals called Chinese slavery, and Jameson called the pigtail question, in South Africa: in other words, the importation of Chinese laborers to work in the Rand mines. The Chinese, in due time, returned to their miseries in China, but by merely coming they had done an extraordinary piece of work. For the exploitation of their slavery on the Rand helped bring a change of government in England; it occurred to Smuts to go and ask this new Liberal Prime Minister to give the Boers "responsible government;" he got it and at once set about devising a union of the four South African states. There was a national convention, chiefly run by Smuts. In 1909 the British Parliament passed the South Africa Act, the result of Smuts' suggestions, arguments, compromises, decisions. In 1910 General Louis Botha--Natalborn, and therefore also originally a British subject, and the last head of all the Boer forces--became the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa. General Hertzog's opposition to him began, and it included Smuts, when he felt himself slighted at the time the Union's first Cabinet was formed. From that time to this, none but a Boer has rested his head in the house that Rhodes, in his prescience, left for the Prime Ministers of a United South Africa; none seems likely to do so.
It was not Smuts' idea that, through union, the Boers should acquire South Africa, but it became the idea of others. To Smuts, union of all kinds was simply the principle of his life. He saw the states of South Africa united into a greater South Africa; he saw this greater South Africa united with the other member of the greatest empire the world had known. There were Boers who came to call him Rhodes Redivivus because of this dream. But his thought, the thought that led to his philosophy of Holism--wholemaking--had come to him when, in searching for the secret of personality, he had analyzed Whitman's poems in his Cambridge days, and it was expressed in these words of Whitman:
I will not make poems with reference to parts, But I will make poems, songs, thoughts, with reference to Ensemble.
It was during the talks which preceded union that Steyn, the last President of the Free State (whose son is Smuts' sole parliamentary supporter now in the Free State) spoke these words: "South Africa is still Naboth's vineyard. Germany means to take it. She wants our gold, our diamonds, our coal. Her plans are already made, her preparations even now complete. . . . What else is German-West but a jumping-off place to attack us from the north while their ships destroy our ports. . . . I have means which you have not of knowing what is going on." He was speaking of that South-West Africa about which the Union still argues with the United Nations, since it has ever been a menace and a necessity to South Africa's security.
Not only Steyn among the Boers knew, as far back as 1909, that Germany was planning a world war. The Germans were getting at particular Boers to aid them against England. From the time, too late, they had joined in the scramble for Africa--from the 1880's --the Germans had been prodding the Boers against England. They had prodded Kruger on to Bechuanaland; they had offered him forces against Rhodes and Jameson; they had offered him all help in the Boer War. None of these offers had come to anything.
However, it was the Germans, and no others, that persisted in murmuring in the Boers' ears; the Germans were of a blondness much valued by people in a land of black men; the Boers were lured by the Germans; there was that century of wrong.
What Smuts felt was that he had been trusted by the British that time he had gone to ask for responsible government and union had followed. He was prepared to give trust for trust. And when the Germans attacked the world in 1914 and crossed the South-West border, expecting help from the Boers, and General Botha expressed in the House the Union's "wholehearted determination" to stand with Britain and the Empire and General Hertzog replied saying it was not South Africa's war, General Smuts said: "Whose war is it then if it is not our war? Who was the aggressor? . . . A German force has entrenched itself on South Africa's territory. . . . What are those German cruisers doing in South African waters? . . . Our mother countries have been attacked . . . England, our mother country, has been forced into war. . . . Here we are today, a free people, able to develop as we please and able to do as we want. . . . We have shed many tears to secure what we have now. Are we going to keep what we have, or are we going to say: 'Let them take it?'"
He told the English during the war: "For a brief moment in your national history you got off the track and came to grips with a small people. . . . You returned to wiser counsels. You made us free. . . . Fifteen years ago I was fighting against the British Empire. There is no change in me. The cause I fought for fifteen years ago is the cause I am fighting for today. I fought for liberty and freedom then, and I am fighting for them today."
The British made Smuts a member of their inner War Cabinet and a lieutenant-general in their army. The first Allied victory in that war was the taking by South Africa of German South-West Africa; and Smuts, like other South Africans, has always regarded the United Nations' denial of it to South Africa as an insult and injustice.
A telegram from the Kaiser had instructed the Governor of German-West to "guarantee Boers existence Boer Republics if they attack immediately." Among the people got at by the Germans was the Commandant-General of the Union's forces. He was to be the President of the Boers' Republic. He resigned his position as head of the Union's forces to attack the Union's forces. It was Botha himself who resisted the rebellion, for it was better, he thought, that brother should fight brother, than nation nation. There was much death and suffering. So here began very seriously the enmity of the greater part of his nation against Smuts. It was not true independence, they felt, to be under Britain; and Botha and Smuts would not let them achieve a true independence.
And the more Smuts succeeded with the British, the more he failed with his own people. At the peace, there was self-determination, and Hertzog led a deputation to Paris and told Lloyd George: "We are here today to ask you that wrong which was done in 1902 may be undone." Above all, the Boers, he said, could not stand the "insufferable British air of superiority." They wanted their republics back again.
He felt himself greatly mocked when Lloyd George said: "Do you know anything about the views of the native population in South Africa?"
"The natives of South Africa?" said General Hertzog, all but dazed by this irrelevance. "No," he said.
It was not many years after the First World War that General Smuts himself was asked questions about the natives and about the Indians too. He said about the Indians: "We found a formula, a general form of words, which did not mention Indians or Asiatics in particular, but which had the effect of placing it in our power to stop further immigration on any appreciable scale. Whatever may be the position in the British Empire as a whole, in South Africa we are not based on a system of political equality. The whole basis of our particular system in South Africa rests on inequality and on recognizing the fundamental difference which exists in the structure of our population. We started as a small white colony in a Black Continent. In the Union the vast majority of our citizens are black; probably the majority of them are in a semi-barbarous state still. . . . We are trying to build up a native system of itself apart from the white system. . . . They will manage their own affairs in all matters of local government. . . . As they become politically educated and acquire administrative experience, you will have a parallel system built up in South Africa. We will not try to mix what cannot be mixed. . . ."
"The Indian question," said General Smuts (little foreseeing the future which began with Gandhi's passive resistance in South Africa), "the Indian question with us is an entirely subsidiary question. But you cannot deal with the Indians apart from the whole position in South Africa; you cannot give political rights to the Indians which you deny to the rest of our colored citizens in South Africa. . . . You cannot treat them on the same basis as Europeans. . . . You could not carry it. You would have a revolution in South Africa." To which Mr. Sastri replied: "You should recognize the principle that at the end of a series of years the franchise has got to be given. . . . We are not talking idle words. . . . Things have moved very fast. . . . India has been stirred up now as she never was. . . ."
But Mr. Churchill said: "Any Asiatic may enter England without any restriction. But if hundreds of thousands of Asiatics were to enter and compete with the working and clerical classes under conditions of extreme economic competition, there is no doubt great changes would be brought about in the laws of the land--it is affectation and humbug to say they would not. . . . It is a question of self-preservation. That is terrible fact, but when it comes up it undoubtedly governs the actions of communities. . . ."
The second German war was not yet over when a leading member of the Delhi central legislature said: "I wish India were in a position to declare war on South Africa here and now. If she were, I should lose no time in taking an army to South Africa. . . . Some day India will come into her own and be in a position to take more effective action against those who persist in assailing her self-respect. . . ."
By this time Smuts no longer saw the Indian question as a subsidiary question. He could not help thinking all the time that there were some 340,000,000 Indians and a little more than 2,000,000 South Africans, and that the Indians regarded Africa as a place for their surplus population. He offered the Indians what the native now had: three white Members to represent them in the Union Assembly and others in the Senate. They demanded equal political rights. They scorned to be treated like natives. They refused the offer. After the election of 1948, the Nationalists had a majority of one in the Senate, and things might have been very different if the Indians had accepted the offer. But when General Smuts in 1946, struggling to give what could be given lest all be lost, appeared before the United Nations to answer India's charges against South Africa and Nehru's sister dramatically opposed him, he was received in disdainful silence, but the people in the galleries rose to their feet and applauded Mrs. Pandit.
Soon after the First World War, there was an industrial revolution on the Rand, the end of a series of great strikes, that had as its nominal principles the raising of white men's wages and the keeping of black men "in their places." Its two real motives were strikingly different from its avowed motives and from each other. The Englishmen who took part in it were called syndicalists by General Smuts, but they were under instructions from Russia. The Afrikaners--Boers--who took part in it were continuing the rebellion of 1914, the Boer War and their other doings during the century of wrong.
There was again great bloodshed. And the end of it was that General Smuts lost the next election, and from 1924 to 1939 did not again lead South Africa. The Second World War brought him back. All then had gone as in the First World War, with General Hertzog for neutrality and General Smuts for association with the Commonwealth, and no one was so surprised as General Hertzog himself when he was defeated by a vote in the House. During the war, Smuts overwhelmingly won another election. He was as surprised as Hertzog had been in 1939, when he lost the election of 1948.
And who defeated Smuts? The people who now dismissed Hertzog as head of the dissident Boers--a group of men whom, throughout his career, General Hertzog had feared and violently opposed; a group whose leader in the House, though not out of the House, was another man, born a British subject in the Cape, an ex-Predikant, Dr. Malan; an élite of Afrikaners in key positions who, seeing in the First World War that by no open means would they get their republic back again, had in 1917 gone underground. Through church, school, press, finance, Parliament they worked--delving, pushing, spreading--to gain control, and in 1948 they got it. They called themselves the Broederbond--the Band of Brothers.
Another resistance group had developed out of the celebrations in 1938 of the hundredth anniversary of the great trek. It called itself the Ossewa Brandwag--the Sentinels of the Oxwaggon, and one might have supposed it to be an arm of the Broederbond. In fact, it was an arm of the Nazi Party. If the Broederbond, when Germany was winning, was prepared to treat with Hitler for the best possible terms, it was yet no more anxious to be ruled by Germany than by England--in its heart, perhaps less anxious. The Ossewa Brandwag was prepared to go in under Germany and, after Germany lost the war, it began to fade out.
When Dr. Malan formed his government, half his Ministers were found to be Broeders, and most of his Parliamentary followers. Broeders were given the places hitherto held by Smuts men. The Broederbond still further strengthened its hold on the country through church, school, the press, finance and Parliament. The word on which Dr. Malan had fought and won the 1948 election, exactly one word, was Apartheid--aparthood--the separation of black from white.
And yet had not General Smuts himself always stood for the separation of black from white? Warning South Africans to have a care lest brown children one day played in the ruins of the Union Building; speaking in 1917 of the European and Asiatic civilizations lost in Africa; saying privately in 1921: "The whole basis of our particular system . . . rests on recognizing the fundamental differences which exist in the structure of our population;" saying publicly in 1929: "A race so unique, and so different in its mentality and cultures from those of Europe requires a policy very unlike that which would suit Europeans;" saying at Oxford in 1936: "Wherever Europeans and natives live in the same country it will mean separate parallel institutions . . . in separate areas."
Had not the very first Governor in the Cape tried to separate whites from Hottentots? Had not later Dutch Governors made this river and that river the boundary between Kaffirs and Europeans? Had not the revolutionary, no less than the royalist, Dutch Governors felt this to be right? Had not the natives' leading missionary defender, in the 1820's, demanded homes for Hottentots and Kaffirs in separate lands and the President of the Institute of Race Relations said, a century later, that separation had to be the Liberals' choice? Had not Rhodes given them separate lands? Had not the Union natives lands of their own? Were not whites forbidden in the British territories of Basutoland and Bechuanaland? Did not the last Cape Governor before Union add an appendix to the Act of Union, saying that the native territories had to be "governed apart from parliamentary institutions of the Union. . . . It is useless to govern blacks and whites on the same system"?
What, then, was the difference on this matter of Apartheid between Dr. Malan and General Smuts and 95 percent of the people of South Africa--perhaps 99 percent? Politically, none. It was a question only of treatment and degree. The difference between Dr. Malan and General Smuts was in their attitude to England.
The reason why 95--perhaps 99--percent of South Africans are against association with natives might be understood by 95--perhaps 99--percent of Americans if they had to consider a position, not of one Negro to ten whites, but (speaking in terms of all Africa) of 80 Negroes to one white. It might do white Americans no biological harm if they became rather yellower and jollier. But for whites to welcome the idea of drowning themselves in the blacks would be, as Mr. Churchill said of welcoming millions of Asiatics into England, affectation and humbug.
There is only this to say about Apartheid: the whites, not the blacks, would be the losers by it. The blacks would muddle along, but the whites would have the foundation of their existence taken from under their feet. And in the end, it would make no difference. Talk is useless. Africa is the black man's continent; it may also be the yellow man's continent. In Africa the white man is "a transient and embarrassed phantom."