Hannes Wessels

To my mind ignorance of history might be the route leading us to self-destruction. Roughly 50 years ago, I recall my headmaster at Umtali Boys High, Mr. ‘Koney’ Fleming, coming into our history class to speak to us. I was most surprised to hear him say this might be our most important subject because without a solid understanding on where you come from you are unlikely to know where you’re going.

I look back with a sense of indebtedness to the teachers who did so well in enlightening us as to what had transpired in years past to bring us to where we were then. I have never forgotten Koney’s words and sadly, for most of my life, I have seen his predictions played out in the world I have lived in.

Last week, across the Atlantic, with joyful abandon, an unruly mob tore down the statue of Robert E. Lee, the great Confederate general, that once stood prominently in Charlottesville, Virginia. I cannot help but wonder if these ‘activists’ would have done this, had they known some of the history of their country? Because if they did, they would know that the man whose monument they have desecrated, was a critical figure in setting the stage for the development of the most powerful, most prosperous country the world has ever seen, along with the freedom of expression that they have used to denigrate him and destroy his legacy.

The truth is, after years of murderous civil war, with brothers killing brothers, and Lee in total control of his forces, with many determined to continue the fight, he looked to the future and decided on peace and a united America. Only he had the power to end the war and he used it. This watershed decision earned him the love and respect of friends and former foes including President Lincoln and Union General Grant. President Franklin Roosevelt called Lee “one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.’

In America today, his statue might well be replaced by one of George Floyd, a convicted criminal, a drug addict with a violent past who died resisting arrest for trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. If this is the mentality of modern America, where Floyd is adored and Lee despised, then one can only wonder if the country can possibly be on the right trajectory.

In similar vein, South Africans have turned on General Jan Smuts as a villain of the past who needs to obliterated from the national consciousness. Like Lee, he was a brave soldier, a brilliant Boer-war general who fought fiercely but fairly against the British to be rid of foreign interference in the affairs of a burgeoning Afrikaner nation. He endured enormous hardship in the process, and he too could have fought on with the support of his troops; but he, along with General Botha, opted for a peace that they thought would be in the interests of all their countrymen, and not just the Afrikaners. This crucial decision, along with the courage to lead in a different direction, provided the platform for the union of states that became the most powerful, most prosperous country in Africa.

At the same time Cecil Rhodes is also being condemned to villainy, portrayed as a crooked capitalist and a racist who did little more than exploit and extort. The fact that this view now filters through the corridors of Oxford University leads me to despair of the quality of instruction at one of the world’s great institutes of learning.

The fact is, it was Rhodes, in a show of enormous physical and moral courage, who stopped his troops, hungry for revenge, from fighting on, and made peace with the Matabele Indunas, that laid the foundation, for arguably, the fastest development of a country, in history. Through his foresight and magnanimity, modern technology and infrastructure was rapidly introduced and the quality of life, for millions of people, was vastly improved. But for this he is banished to infamy.  The irony is that Rhodes was revered by the Matabele people as a man of honour and peacemaker.  It was they who gave him their unconditional Royal Salute at his funeral in the Matopos Hills – the only white man ever to have been accorded this singular honour by this proud, magnificent tribe.

With the news from Zimbabwe that the populace must accept a minimum of 12 hours a day with no electrical power, and South Africa in the grip of an energy crisis, I was moved to wonder why this has come to be, thinking back to what once was, and what might have been.

Hardly anyone in Zimbabwe will have ever heard of Godfrey Huggins but he was the federal premier who presciently predicted the pressing need for the production of cheap and abundant electrical power if the country, indeed the then Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, were to develop as quickly as he hoped.

Thanks largely to him, a small outpost of the then Empire, in what had recently been a lawless wilderness, raised one of the biggest international loans in history, built the largest dam in the world, and transformed an entire region by providing the power that would facilitate the economic growth that would benefit millions. 

Like Huggins, General Smuts, fully understood the pressing need for the generation of cheap electrical power and was convinced that that capacity combined with the production of steel and iron ore, would take his country up to a new level as an economic and industrial power.  History tells us Smuts was staggered to hear of the estimated costs involved but possessed of the acumen to understand what his clever technocrats told him, he took the political plunge and backed the plan. This set South Africa on the way to developing highly sophisticated thermal generators and on to become a nuclear power.

Unfortunately, the effort to make the country the electrical powerhouse of Africa quickly unravelled under the new political dispensation after 1994 and the need to import power has become a reality.

The reason there is little hope for any change for the better, is because too few Zimbabweans and South Africans know about their respective pasts, so the mistakes of history are bound to be repeated. 

After all this is a continent that reveres the memory of people like Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel and Robert Mugabe, to name but a few. The post-colonial leaders have done an impressive job of wholly destroying their colonial legacies but I’m not sure what they have improved upon.  But then maybe I’m reading the wrong history books.

7 thoughts on “No History, No Future”
  1. Well I attended Godfrey Huggins Primary School, Marandellas in the ’50’s! I also did the Rotary sponsored Trans Africa Expedition led by Ken Flemming (UBHS Head) in 1963! A wonderful man.

  2. I thought Smuts was a turncoat. Did the British have the right or authority to wage two ‘Boer’ wars against SA.
    Smuts was an internationalist. Who owns the gold and diamond mines in South Africa today?

  3. On the mark Hannes. Unfortunately the modern institutions of learning appear to have been taken over lock stock and barrel by the extreme left. As you are well aware with leftists it matters not what the truth is but what you would like it to be.

  4. It’s hard to see what has improved for the people of Zimbabwe since 1980. Ian Smith had the country on the right trajectory.

  5. Having had a family farm in Zimbabwe for 99 years – we were evicted with the assistance of the Police some 20 years ago within a 5 day period. 99 years endeavour destroyed in 5 days. Now on the other side of the world where we arrived as startled refugees – we take up the conservation and agricultural vision of Smuts and Rhodes which was instilled in us through the likes of Matopos Research Station and the ex servicemen who went on the “Donga Doctor” course at Wits in 1946 under the guidance of Smuts. Whether we like it or not these beliefs and traits “were tattooed on us in the cradle.” My own housemaster was Donga Doctor, and then later, our Crop Science Professor was cut from the same cloth having chased Rommel around the desert as a young man just like Billy Teague (Coffee) and Keith Harvey (NRB and the Mashona breed). Their works may well be ignored and ridiculed by the likes of Zanu and the ANC today – but in the USA and Australia they are becoming the absolute foundation of conservation. A civilisation that ignores its soil and its environment is a very short term civilisation. We have witnessed such environmental ignorance and arrogance in our short life time that we feel that we are some 40 years older than we really are! Everywhere we go nature is hurting and so many think that the party can still go on and somebody else will pay for the drinks. The wake up call is on its way.

  6. Thank you as always for your thoughtful and relevant article. I believe a wiser man than me, George Orwell, once said “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”. A lesson all to well taught by Marxist and Communist propaganda and learnt by ignorant ‘activists’ today. Although today, even I, and pondering the futility of maintaining our own history against the clamour of the hordes that seek our obliteration. I feel that even our noble predecessors, that fought in WWII and other campaigns, have started to fade into obscurity. A sad day indeed. Remain well Sir and keep up with the wonderful articles.

  7. I couldn’t agree more. Watch Mozambique make the same mistakes with the northern insurgency as the US did in Afghanistan., and that history is even cold yet.

    1. Perhaps the so called institutions of higher learning should make history a compulsary subject in all courses? You hit the nail on the head Hannes.

      1. Do you mean ‘uncensored, politically unedited, actually honest history”? There is no longer any such thing coming out of the keyboards of the indoctrinated masses now pouring out of the corridors of Leftist academia. I recently read a book about the inquisition(Flesh Inferno) It was erudite and well researched. Unfortunately the writer is a bigoted leftist who totally failed to understand why the inquisition was created and how its bureaucracy evolved once these reasons were satisfied and I am no lover of the RC church. This is the kind of “history” that is now the norm. If you want truth purchasing books written before 1960s will tell you more truth tan most of the recent ones. There are exceptions TBH. “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise” is one such. But now such are the exception.

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