Smuts returned to South Africa with an understanding that the Dutch of the Transvaal and the Liberal Government would work together, and knowing that self-government for the Transvaal was at hand. He had done well for his people. He was pleased with his work and he was like one awaked out of a bad dream, the bad dream of the last four years since the war. His resentment disappeared. He rediscovered that the English were a great people. The Dutch were dour and unforgiving, never forgetting an injury. The English in England forgave generously and forgot quickly. They were giving back the Transvaal to the Dutch in all but name, and only four years after a war that had cost them tens of thousands of English lives and 200 million pounds in money. "Only a people like the English could do that," he said. "They may make mistakes, but they're a great people."
They were giving the Transvaal back to the people of the Transvaal, but they were also giving Smuts back his chance. Power, control, the opportunity to direct, to be in the centre of things, to be in the limelight; politics, work that would absorb his energies, all these, all that he wanted, were close at hand.
His old energy revived after the years of depression, of aimless discontent, of helpless resentment. With his energy came back his great ideas, his dreams—the dreams and ideals he had learned from Rhodes—of all South Africa united into one white people—Dutch and English working together. His thoughts rose high. "We know how much we have lost," he said at a meeting. "Perhaps it was better thus. We have fought, we have struggled for our rights. God has taken our liberty—but God is great."
At the moment he must work to unite the people of the Transvaal and to form the first government with the Party of Het Yolk.
He looked everywhere for allies. He visited Steyn, who had newly returned to the Free State from exile. Steyn was ill, almost bedridden, but he still had much influence with all the Dutch throughout South Africa. He talked with the Dutch leaders of the Bond in the Cape. With Botha, he toured up and down the country, speaking at innumerable meetings. "The source of all our evils is disunion," he said. "Let us work to attain our old object, a united South Africa....There must be a blending of the races. . . . There must be no more race-feeling."
It required courage and determination to speak like that. The English in England might be a people who forgot easily and forgave with a great gesture, but not so the English or the Dutch in South Africa. They were still hot and angry and hostile one against the other. They attacked Smuts from every side, called him traitor, liar, and scoundrel. At home it was no more easy for him, since Mrs. Smuts would have nothing to do with the English. "I am a Dutchwoman," she said; "just a Dutchwoman like my ancestors." And her ancestors were well known for their hostility to the English.
But Smuts kept steadily on. He did not lack either courage or determination. He refused to be over-influenced at home. He tackled the English die-hards in Johannesburg itself and begged them to "spread conciliation. . . . Forget the things that divided us in the past.... Work for the good of all." He tackled the Dutch die-hards with equal vigour and even begged those who had fought for the Republic to shake hands with those who had fought for the English. "We need," he said, "co-operation, trust, and the formation of one great South African Nation We want to see only one person, the South African, the citizen of the Transvaal and of South Africa."
"Yes," he said on one occasion," when on the bloody battlefield I saw Dutchmen and Englishmen dead, my old ideal came back. Those men who had been killed together should have stood together and fought side by side for one great cause—a great South Africa."
Campbell-Bannerman kept his promise. A Royal Commission came to South Africa. The Dutch were suspicious of it, thinking it a trick to waste time. Even Botha was doubtful of it. He would talk only Afrikaans, and took Smuts to interpret for him, help him to give evidence before it, and watch its work. But the Commission quickly drafted a constitution giving the Transvaal immediate self-government, and in December of 1906 it became law.
The first election under the new constitution was to be held immediately, and Botha and Smuts called up Het Yolk. It turned out with the same enthusiasm and, except that the men carried no arms, in the same formation as the commandos had come when called out to the war, and it worked solidly at Botha's orders. During the last two years it had been carefully organised. In every district, even in most villages, it had its local committee, its leaders, and its plans ready. In the Transvaal it was the only solid body of well-directed people with a clear aim, and its machinery was excellent.
Botha and Smuts toured the whole country. It was hard and uncomfortable work. The veld was bleak, the hotels very dingy. The transport and the railways were irregular and comfortless and the journeys long and uninteresting. The village halls were draughty and ill-lighted, a flickering lamp often the only light, but the people met them with enthusiasm. They came great distances, whole families together, in ox-wagons and horse carts, across the bleak veld to welcome them. They outspanned and squatted round the houses where they lodged. They crowded the village halls to see them and hear them speak. Politics was in their blood, in the blood of every Dutchman and Dutchwoman, and they came to win back by politics what they had lost by war.
Botha, big, broad, swarthy-faced, and black-eyed, was always even tempered, genial; always ready for a talk, a joke, or a game of cards. He received endless visitors with a ripe good humour, a slap on the back, or a kindly hand on a shoulder, a welcome in his eye. He had a prodigious memory for names and faces and he remembered all he met, their worries and their affairs. "This is a man," the people said of him.
Smuts kept to himself, was distant, usually silent, and sometimes morose. When waiting for an hotel bus to take him to the station or for the train to come in, he often stood to one side by himself, away from the crowds who had come to see them off and to wish them God-speed. If the morning was chilly, he wrapped himself in a greatcoat with the collar turned up and his hat pulled low so that only the tip of his nose showed, and he repelled any advances with gruff and curt replies. But once he was up to speak before an audience, though he was by no means an orator, he spoke with fluency and conviction because his heart was in what he said.
Het Yolk candidates were elected by large majorities. Smuts was elected for the Wonderboom division of Pretoria. Botha became the first Prime Minister of the Transvaal under the British flag and made Smuts his Colonial Secretary and his Minister of Education.
Botha and Smuts had become the rulers of the Transvaal.
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