THOUGH Smuts seemed to be in the limelight and as if he was the whole government, yet Botha was always there. He did not appear often in the Parliament, for he was not at ease speaking English and Smuts acted for him, but without Botha at his shoulder Smuts would have made many errors, and perhaps have failed. Botha was a good business man and he believed that the real foundations of the State were land and agriculture. He was an expert farmer and he kept all question of agriculture under his own hand. There was little money to spare, but he spent it on the farms, on importing good stock and seeds, on increasing the export of mealies, and on improving the quality of the sheep and the wool. He carried on the work founded by Milner, set up model farms and places for research work, sent young Dutch students to learn the latest methods in America, and founded a Land Bank with money which he borrowed in England and gave liberal loans to the farmers.
His work was practical and effective, but he did far more than that. He was always available with advice and help for his colleagues—and his advice was wise and sound. He Was in every sense the leader. While Smuts was buried deep in his office in papers or fighting for his ends and making enemies, Botha had his house crowded with visitors of all sorts and kinds, who shared his tobacco and drank his coffee as their fathers had smoked the tobacco and drunk the coffee of President Kruger. Smuts would be curt with a delegation, or again he might walk down a street and ignore his own best supporters, looking right through them without seeing them. Or he would wander out of his office into another to find a textbook. A crowd might be waiting to see him in the ante-room. He would push his way through them, still absorbed in some problem. He would return, reading the textbook as he walked, and saying nothing to the people round him, his nose in the book, not even realising that they existed. Ruffled, angry men would come to Botha to complain of Smuts and his discourtesy, and Botha would smooth them down with soft words.
Botha had an unequalled natural ability in handling crowds, while Smuts had little. At one meeting in Pretoria, when both Botha and Smuts were on the platform, so great a crowd tried to get into the hall that many were forced to remain outside. They began to get angry and out of hand. Smuts went out to them. The crowd grew more angry, for he acted on them as an irritant. Botha went next, and within a few minutes he had pacified the crowd.
Smuts did not seem to realise that he was unpopular. To get a fact, to attain a practical end, meant more to him than to win men over. When Botha became Prime Minister, Smuts wrote to a friend, "I might have been Premier, but considered that it would be a mistake to take precedence over Botha, who is really one of the finest men South Africa has produced." He did not realise that brains and push, capability and energy and thrust were not the primary necessities for a leader and a premier, but that he must have human sympathy, the ability to handle men, to understand them and use their idiosyncrasies, to keep them sweet, to ease off their jealousies so that they would work in harmony, to be able to judge their characters and abilities and then to be able to delegate work to them—and these were the qualities that Smuts most conspicuously lacked and which Botha equally conspicuously possessed. A few newspapers had suggested that Smuts should be Premier and he did not realise that Het Yolk and the political leaders and the people in general would not follow him, despite his brains and energy, though they would follow Botha.
The two men worked well together, but Botha kept a close eye on Smuts. As always, he was afraid of the foolishness that Smuts might do in a moment of impulsiveness or in a moment of annoyance. Sometimes, even when it was against his better judgment, for the sake of peace, he would let Smuts go his own way, but more often with a few wise words he held him back—as Kruger had held Smuts back when he was the bristling bantam cock of a young State Attorney—and so saved him from many grave errors
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