30 The Act Of Union
From Dutch Ruled South Africa Part 3 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

Botha and Smuts returned to the Transvaal. They had been made much of in London The King had sent for Botha privately to Buckingham Palace and told him that he wished him to be the first Premier of the Union of South Africa. Botha and Smuts had both been consulted on the choice of a Governor-General and they had advised Lord Gladstone.

There was much to be done in the Transvaal to prepare for the change. Among other things there was a large surplus in the Transvaal treasury. Smuts decided to use twenty thousand pounds of this to give all the members of the Transvaal Parliament about to be dissolved a present of three hundred pounds each.

This raised a howl of protest. Senators of the Upper House, politicians in opposition, mine-magnates, ministers from the other colonies who said that Botha's promise to pool all assets included this money, even members of the Opposition in the House of Commons in London protested.

But the reasonable, patient, compromising Smuts of the Convention was gone. He had no need in the Transvaal to compromise or be patient. He had the power to enforce his will and he meant to have his way. The Transvaal had, he said, of all the colonies made the greatest sacrifices: before Union was completed the people of the Transvaal should get what was theirs; he meant to see that the members of the Transvaal Parliament should not go away disgruntled.

He would listen to no protests. He passed a Bill through the Lower House. Being sure that the senators would hold it up he unearthed an old law and on its authority requested the Governor to sign. A number of taxpayers took it to law. The Courts decided it was illegal. Smuts found a legal quibble that covered him: he jockeyed the Governor into signing, and paid over the money.

He followed this up by allotting the remaining surplus to constructing a Union Building on the hill above Sunnyside, a magnificent building on a magnificent site looking down over Pretoria. It cost one and a half million pounds. He had wished to make Pretoria the capital. He had proposed to make it at least the place where the Union Parliament should sit, but de Villiers had vetoed that and given the position to Cape Town; but the offices and the administration were to be in Pretoria. With his unrelenting persistency Smuts kept to his original object. He calculated that by constructing such a building to house the administration, Pretoria would become the most important centre and perhaps eventually the sole capital of South Africa. But his high-handedness and his autocratic actions did him no service at this moment and often they were thrown in his teeth.

Lord Gladstone as Governor-General arrived in Cape Town early in May 1910. The Act of Union was timed to come into force on the 31st May, but there would be no elections until later in the year. A government had to be formed, and the problem was to know who should be Premier.

Lord Gladstone asked for reports of public opinion, sent out inquiries round the countryside, consulted all the leading men, including Smuts. It was clear that only two men stood out. Merriman, the Englishman, who was Premier of the Cape, and Louis Botha. Smuts was not in the running: he had little following: and he strongly urged Lord Gladstone to choose Botha. Only a handful, including Steyn and Hertzog and de Wet, more in jealous opposition to Botha than anything else, backed Merriman. Lord Gladstone chose Botha.

At once Botha constructed a cabinet. He had to take men from all the old colonies. Hertzog he made Minister of Justice, but he did it unwillingly and only because it was politic. To Hull, an Englishman from Johannesburg, he gave Finance. Out of nine posts he gave the three important ones of Interior, Mines, and Defence to Smuts.

In the elections in September his supporters were returned by a large majority to the first Union Parliament.

Botha and Smuts ruled all South Africa.

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