Hannes Wessels

So consistently troubling is the news that reaches us daily, both home and abroad, I have reached the sorry stage where I am too scared to look. I broke from this self-imposed regimen yesterday to look at the photos and read the reports on what was happening at UCT’s Smuts Hall. I felt a sense of duty; both my father and I were privileged to have been residents there and both of us came away having benefitted greatly from that experience. It was a mistake. I read of and saw the clips showing the energy and apparent joy exhibited by those who defaced and removed General Smut’s bust. This was profoundly disturbing and distressing and I regretted my decision to avail myself of this information.

Overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness I sought solace in thinking maybe this was a time for pity and not anger; ‘.. forgive them for they know not what they do’? I could not help but wish these people showed the same spirit and determination in deploying their time and ability in the quest to improve upon what was achieved in the past, rather than break it. Unfortunately, this is an approach to the past which is not confined to this country, it is happening in America, the UK and Europe where the Black Lives Matter movement is wreaking havoc while offering little of substance as a better alternative.

In an earlier era, General Smuts was considered one of the great men of the world. Having fought ferociously against the British in the Boer War, he threw his, and his country’s weight behind his former foes in the fight to make the world a better place. At considerable political risk, he played a major role in forging the unity of diverse groups required to establish the Union that set South Africa on the path to being a prosperous First World country. While he believed that future success would best be achieved under white leadership, he never, to the best of my knowledge, sought to harm, let alone kill his black compatriots.  In fact, the black population grew rapidly during his tenure and standards of living improved throughout all racial groups. Ironically, Chaka Zulu, a South African and African icon with an international airport named after him, is thought to have slaughtered up to one million black people while spreading a reign of terror throughout his domain – if he had been white he would be remembered as one of the greatest mass murderers in history.  When Hitler challenged the world, it was Smuts, in the face of much resistance from some Afrikaner people whose memories of British atrocities during the Boer War endured, who led the country to war again. Thanks in part, to that decision Nazism was defeated. Had Hitler prevailed, it is doubtful the group who removed his bust would have been free to perform this task. Hitler had no place in his plans for black Africans to be much more than chattels, let alone heads of state. Unlike the leaders of today, supported by the majority, Smuts, a humble man who lived modestly, was never accused of using high office for self-enrichment. None of these facts seem to matter to the mob.

For someone who has lived his life in various countries in Africa, I feel I have, for most of that time, been witness to wanton destruction. Under various guises ranging from anti-colonialism to affirmative-action to land-reform, I have seen systems, facilities and infrastructures needlessly destroyed leading to the impoverishment and early death of millions, along with massive damage to the environment.

Against this backdrop, I, and many others, hoped South Africa would reverse the trend. Watching General Smut’s bust being rudely removed from the portal at the old residence, I knew all our hopes are dashed.

It seems the only time people in authority act decisively and effectively is when they seek to break what was once functional and beneficial to communities and the country. What has just happened to Smuts is symbolic of what similar-minded people have done to painstakingly built structures such as the country’s road, rail and port systems, South African Airways and Eskom to name but a few.

History will show that in the years when the residence was known as Smuts Hall, tens of thousands of students of all races attended a world-class educational institution. Most left having special skills and prepared for a world they went in to with confidence and the alumni have contributed massively over the decades to making their country and the world a better place. As the university moves quickly to dispense with established traditions and standards of excellence while appearing to have little better to offer in the wake of this process this era is apparently now over.  This trashing of Smuts’ bust is a microcosmic of the capacity of post-colonial African administrations for wrecking its legacy of development and civilisation and their failure to replace the ruins thus created with a better alternative.

                  I know I am in a minority, but I firmly believe General Smuts wanted South Africa to be the best it could be, and he wanted a world bereft of violence and division.  The grim reality is of a Marxist-inspired, de-civilising process of wanton destruction and desecration with no vision to build a better future for all on the foundations of the successes and failures of the past.  As George Orwell observed in his terrifyingly prescient novel, 1984:

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

If he was looking down from his portal at what is happening in the country he loved, maybe those who have succeeded in his removal from public view have done him a favour and spared him the sadness of watching his dream of a prosperous and united country being torn asunder.   

17 thoughts on “The Fall of General Smuts”
  1. No surprises that a UCT SRC member has resigned after he was frogmarched from his residence to the police station on rape allegations. This is the kind of leadership who is heading all this Smuts Must Fall what whats.

  2. Through this whole #rhodesmustfall episode, their new recently announced “Rhodes Must Fall Scholarship” and this Smuts debacle, UCT has experienced their “independence moment”. Much like all the African countries across the country getting their independence, history has shown that its only a downward path from here. A UCT degree in 20yrs will be a useless piece of paper.

    It is interesting that less than a month after UCT announced their “Rhodes Must Fall Scholarship” a fire came barrelling down straight into UCT’s African Studies Library. This fire came from the vicinity of Rhodes Memorial. I would say no coincidence, #rhodesrevenge and the spirit world is rumbling.

  3. Disgraceful small brain washed idiots. A flow on effect of the ANC policies ,is the flow on effect afterwards. In Oz a friend , a South African electrical engineer , qualified about twenty plus years ago could not get a job unless he redid a course here at university. So he became a self employed electrician , and has done extremely well. They do not recognize the qualifications anymore except the older generation. It makes you wonder where it will end.?

  4. Eradicating the past through symbolic destruction is futile and achieves nothing of sustenance or erudition for humanity. History is contextual, its lessons both enlighten and instruct if interpreted as such. Failing that, we are left only with wanton destruction of that which could benefit societies and the generations that inherit them. I graduated from Rhodes University and, truthfully, make no effort to stay abreast of developments at my alma mater because the history being made in South Africa today tears at one’s very soul. Pendulums swing but the pace of misdirected socio-political change outpaces the arc of wisdom.

  5. People who remove statues will never be immortalized in a statue of their own.

  6. In certain young people today like these two from my writing workshop, I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.

    I find it obscene.

    There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion, who can fluidly pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness. People whose social media lives are case studies in emotional aridity. People for whom friendship, and its expectations of loyalty and compassion and support, no longer matter. People who claim to love literature – the messy stories of our humanity – but are also monomaniacally obsessed with whatever is the prevailing ideological orthodoxy. People who demand that you denounce your friends for flimsy reasons in order to remain a member of the chosen puritan class.

    People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself while not having actually read any books themselves, while not being able to intelligently defend their own ideological positions, because by ‘educate,’ they actually mean ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity.’

    People who do not recognize that what they call a sophisticated take is really a simplistic mix of abstraction and orthodoxy – sophistication in this case being a showing-off of how au fait they are on the current version of ideological orthodoxy.

    People who wield the words ‘violence’ and ‘weaponize’ like tarnished pitchforks. People who depend on obfuscation, who have no compassion for anybody genuinely curious or confused. Ask them a question and you are told that the answer is to repeat a mantra. Ask again for clarity and be accused of violence. (How ironic, speaking of violence, that it is one of these two who encouraged Twitter followers to pick up machetes and attack me.)
    And so we have a generation of young people on social media so terrified of having the wrong opinions that they have robbed themselves of the opportunity to think and to learn and to grow.

    I have spoken to young people who tell me they are terrified to tweet anything, that they read and re-read their tweets because they fear they will be attacked by their own. The assumption of good faith is dead. What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another. God help us. It is obscene.
    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

    Full article can be read here: https://www.chimamanda.com/…/it-is-obscene-a-true…/

    Or as

    John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address inspired children and adults to see the importance of civic action and public service.
    His historic words, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” challenged every American to contribute in some way to the public good.

  7. I believe the author is correct, at least General Smuts is now spared having to overlook what is to come.

  8. They can proudly boast a legacy of hard fought freedoms won by destruction all illuminated by candles.

  9. Well written. Unbeknown to many, Smuts lost his seat to a right wing group that’s changed the face of history when Smuts wanted a broader franchise. Also, Smuts had the vision to bring back ex- servicemen from chasing Rommel around the desert to become conservationists for Africa. Many of these graduates left RSA and went to greater professional opportunities in a young country to the north – then Rhodesia. The list of their achievements in Southern Africa is endless. John Lea as Professor of Crop Science at University of Natal, Keith Harvey was chairman of the NRB in Rhodesia and a big player in development of the Mashona breed of cattle, Denis Barnes was a pasture science guru of note at Matopos research station for years, and so the list goes on. Today we are implementing environmental and agricultural work that can be traced back to those Jan Smuts “Wits Donga Doctors.” We salute Smuts and the fact that unwittingly when he got booted out in 1948 that he set the foundations for one of the most amazing agricultural economies of the world by supplying the keen, fresh but dedicated professionals in agriculture that were our mentors. In turn we salute the Donga Doctors for their amazing input into the next generation and the land itself. As history repeats itself – so the next generation of agriculturalists have also been become the scatterlings of Africa and have taken their agricultural skills and passion globally. There is a great saying “the difference between civilisation and anarchy is just nine missed meals.” Many countries in Africa are now net importers of food – and South Africa is one of them. The populace seem to think that a person who tried to prevent just that is a rogue? Such is the power of brainwashing and propaganda? Maybe they can rename it the Jacob Zuma Hall?

    1. Thank you Sir, this is most interesting. Also of interest, it is suggested Smuts spent too much time in Rhodesia and not enough time at home, prior to the ’48 election trying to get Rhodesia to join the Union. Had he prevailed the Nats would almost certainly have lost the election.

      1. We have to take council of our years and sometimes at best, forgive them for they know not what to do. I do believe that the British did more good than harm and Smuts most certainly leaves a legacy of global statesmanship in a world of dynamic uncertainty.

  10. “I look upon British rule as a safer guarantee of peace than the United Nations itself” and “it is necessary for the peace of the world that Britain recover her position and maintain herself as one of the super powers in the world” former Boer Field Marshall Jan Smuts.
    n my lengthy article on How Political Parties Corrupt the Constitution (contact me at john.cruttwell@sfr.fr if you wish a copy) I have inlcuded this quote in my footnotes. This is because while it is fashionable to denigrate Britain because of her Empire, I also thought that if a fomer enemy can see the good in us, then perhaps we have merit after all?

    Indeed, our Channel 4 TV did a series “End of Empire” some years ago and this can be found on line. One Episode or maybe the whole series starts with a Malaysian gentleman thanking God in his daily prayers that he lived under the British Empire!! Why? Because he understood the protection and Common Law values which were the basis of the English (sic) Justice system, with Trial By Jury of one’s equals as the antidote to the tyranny of party political lawmakers. The jury is all-powerful because it can find a defendant not guilty and set in motion a process to annul the bad law. Of course, the authorities in Britain would like to remove Juries and those of you interested might like to Google ‘Democracy Defined’ by Kenn D’Oudney.

    Our enemies have been very clever. While we have been asleep they have been “educating” our young with falsehood. Those of you who view UK Column News in UK from time to time will have heard that recently an educational body charged with teaching the British youth about our constritution did not mention Magna Carta in their text.
    As my article (free if you are interested) shows, the Party Systerm is evil because it destroys the separation of powers in our constitution and makes the gaining of power the aim of politics. “When we come to power” they say quite brazenly.
    Unfortunately we have become our own executions. By voting party we consent to this game of power centralisation, believing the lie that having a vote is “democracy”. No, having a vote is “universal suffrage” They have it in Zimbabwe and it is enforced by the AK47.
    Democracy has a mechanism to protect you from tyranny. In our case Trial by Jury. Universal suffrage has no such mechanism.
    Yiou can have a democratric Monarchy or a Democratic Repuiblic, If Trial by Jury is inherent, or you can have a dictatorship with either if there is no Trial by Jury.
    Martin Cruttwell

  11. During the digging of the Big Hole at Kimberley, a British newspaper reporter wrote in one of his dispatches that Africa was no place for the white man. Prescient.

  12. You have again expressed unashamedly Hannes but I have no pity for the red shirted hooligans standing in place of Smut’s statue.
    Their mindless actions will only create greater division and hatred. They look and are pathetic and their descendants will never build statues of them.

  13. Hannes, I am unable tp express the contempt I feel for this type of action. do the perpetrators ever improve anything or is the aim to bring everything down to the lowest common denominator. If so – they are succeeding !

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