Courtesy Reuters

Smuts at Eighty

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,

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