55 Storm Clouds Gather
From Return To South Africa Part 6 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

SMUTS returned to Cape Town proud of his work and satisfied, proud and satisfied because the commandos of young farmers from all the Transvaal had turned out at his call and come riding hell for leather to help him. The people were with him, he thought. To all those who had helped him he sent out a message of thanks and congratulations: they had crushed lawlessness, and no nation could exist on lawlessness; and ' We are building a nation," he said. Many of his own acts had been illegal, and he asked Parliament to grant him a Bill to indemnify him for these.

His request was met by the Opposition with a roar of reproach. The cost of the revolt had been enormous: many of the mines had been damaged; houses, even whole streets, had been destroyed; officials murdered and mutilated; native labourers driven away and afraid to return; the whole life of Johannesburg and the Reef brought to a standstill. It had taken twenty thousand troops and police, with aeroplanes, armoured cars, and machine guns, to put down the revolt, and there had been eight hundred casualties, of which a large proportion had been amongst the Government troops.

And all this, said Hertzog, could have been avoided if Smuts had known how to handle a strike. Hertzog spoke in his bitterest manner. Smuts had deliberately and revengefully, he said, held his hand until bloodshed was sure, and this was the result. Smuts had been utterly callous, heartless, criminal, and he had enjoyed shedding blood.

Smuts' supporters attacked Hertzog with equal bitterness, telling him that he and his own men were responsible for the trouble. They shouted insults and personalities at Hertzog. Hertzog's supporters shouted insults back. There was wild pandemonium. Again and again the Speaker Called the House to order, and then closed the sitting.

Smuts sat silent, his face set, his eyes grey with fury, restraining himself and refusing to take part in the uproar, which seemed to him to be cheap and undignified.

But the antagonism against him increased. He now stood out alone at the head of the State without Botha to bear part of any attack or to smooth away some of the bitterness. The antagonism was concentrated fully and personally on him.

Hertzog marshalled all the forces against him with skill. He threw in his teeth the Rebellion, the campaigns in German South West and German East, the shootings in the 1913 strike, the killing of the natives in the Cape, in Johannesburg, and the slaughter of the Hottentots in the South-West, and now this great killing on the Reef. Smuts was a "man of blood."

The Dutch pastors took up the cry. They had never forgiven Smuts. They were his implacable enemies. "Jesus had his Judas, Paul had his Evil Spirit . . . General Hertzog has his Smuts," preached one from his pulpit. Their influence among the Dutch was immense, especially among the women.

Labour repeated the same cry: Smuts was the man of blood, the enemy of the workers, the agent of the mine-magnates, of the financiers, of the Chamber of Mines; and everywhere the workers believed it and hated Smuts.

Everything that Smuts did was twisted cleverly against him. In 1923 he went again to London to another Imperial Conference. At that moment Germany had failed to pay her war reparations. France had threatened and then marched troops into the Ruhr, the industrial centre of Germany. The English Government had refused to be a party to this. Smuts, by letters to the newspapers and in speeches, made a full attack on France. We are" on a march to destruction . . . a crusade of suicide," he said. "The time has come for a convocation of a great Conference of the Powers to consider reparations. . . . The occupation of the Ruhr is largely responsible for the disaster....It is illegal . . . it is a breach of the treaty of Versailles." And later, "France has made impossible the Conference on reparations, which I had proposed. . . . There must be a Conference with wider powers to set Germany on her feet. . . . Our duty is to go forward, even if France does not march with us. France . . . went forward without us to seek reparations in the Ruhr, and shall we shrink from going forward without her when something far deeper, far more fundamental, is at stake?"

The French newspapers attacked Smuts violently as the pro-German of the Peace Conference who was now trying to split England from France to help Germany, and so mulct France of her just dues. The Australian newspapers were astonished at Smuts. The Canadian papers were even more surprised. "This is plunging . . . into the foreign policy of Europe with a vengeance," wrote one. "If this didactic and detailed intervention had been made by our own prime minister we should look on it as a startling innovation. General Smuts has played a great part in world affairs, but after all he is only an overseas prime minister. . . . We cannot believe that a man in his position would make so bold a contribution to the very delicate discussion of European affairs without the permission of the British ministers."

Smuts' enemies in South Africa saw their opportunity. Smuts, they said, had not merely the permission of the British ministers; he was the agent and the mouthpiece of the English Government, and this explained all he did, even his going to Ireland. Smuts, the agent of the English Government and of the English financiers of the Chamber of Mines, was not the man to be trusted with the interests of the people of South Africa. The Dutch, especially the farmers, believed this, and looked more than ever sideways at Smuts.

Meanwhile, Tielman Roos had been steadily at work in the Transvaal. There he was the leader of the Nationalists. The people liked his open, genial, witty manner and his quick, biting retorts. He had sworn to be revenged on Smuts. He rarely came down to the Parliament, but spent his time travelling from town to town, speaking, carrying out a steady, clever, unscrupulous, and bitter campaign against Smuts among the Dutch.

Everything, too, seemed to move against Smuts. The world slump increased, and South Africa suffered. Unemployment and distress became more extensive. Smuts tried to reduce them by relief work, irrigation schemes, and road-building, but these led to much wasteful expenditure. He started a scheme to electrify the railways, which was found unwise. The drought had been followed by a plague of locusts, and the ruined farmers were sour and resentful. He tried to help them by stimulating the trade in fruit and maize, but with little success. As Merriman wrote of him, he was "a poor administrator": and the Opposition attacked him with criticisms which he could not answer.

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