57 Racial Strife
From Reconciliation Part 7 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

As soon as they had won, Hertzog and his men rushed in to take possession, to grasp power and the perquisites of power. They had worked and waited twelve years for this. Creswell became Minister of Labour; Tielman Roos, as talkative and as excited as a cock-sparrow, Minister of Justice; Malan, the ex-pastor editor of Die Burger, Minister of Education; Havenga, a young Dutchman from the wilds of the Free State, a close friend and at one time secretary to Hertzog, who, though he had no knowledge of finance and was slow-thinking, was yet solid, completely honest and determined to learn and who was absolutely loyal to Hertzog, went to the Treasury to look after the finances of South Africa; and a man or two whose main qualification was that they had been leaders in the Rebellion in 1914. Hertzog took up residence at Groote Schuur. This was the old farm that Cecil Rhodes had had built for himself into a great house and which he had left, when he died, for the use of prime ministers.

The spirit of Cecil Rhodes lived in that house: rooms spacious and hung with tapestry; old furniture, heavy Dutch china, rich silver, and fine pictures, a monstrous sarcophagus made into a bath fit for a Roman emperor. Yet a house of the country, with Dutch gables and latticed and barred windows, with heavy wood shutters, and an open, pillared terrace where Rhodes had walked and looked away over the gardens full of palm trees and hydrangeas and bougainvilleas, away to the pine woods on the slopes that climbed steep up to the summit of Table Mountain, where it towered sheer above Cape Town; and here, and amongst the pine trees, Rhodes had dreamt his spacious dreams and planned them into wide-flung policies. It was the house of a Great Man and of a Leader of Men.

And here came Hertzog to live. There could have been no greater contrast than between the builder and the man who dwelt in the house. Hertzog was small, his vision narrow, his mind cramped and provincial. He was no leader, but contracted by "craven fears of being great." A dwarf had come to sit in the seat of the Colossus.

Smuts gave up office with a half-smile and shrug of his shoulders. Patrick Duncan, urged on by his English supporters, protested at his resignation and the overbearing way in which he had done it without consulting the party. Smuts listened to him without resentment. The editor of a newspaper asked him for a statement. "I shall be back stronger than ever within a few months," he replied.

He was quite sure that he had carried out a shrewd political move. He had been criticised almost to blackmail by the English members from Natal and by some of his own party. A few months in opposition would do these critics good, teach them a lesson. The Government could not last long. Hertzog's followers were all Dutchmen, farmers, land owners, and conservatives. Creswell's followers were all Englishmen, workers, landless men, and socialists. As well ask hedgehog and dog to mate as to ask these to function as a government. The country would soon find, he calculated, that it could not get on without him. "Let us not," he said at a meeting, "be too much affected by ups and downs. The huge structure of unpopularity built up against us will dissolve as the morning mist." His doctor had told him to rest. It would be a relief for a little time to go to the farm at Irene, to read and recoup and get ready to return to power, and it would be interesting to watch his enemies making mistakes.

But as the months went by and there was no change, no splitting in the Government, no crisis, and no call for him from the country, Smuts realised that he had been wrong.

Botha had had an extra sense, which had warned him what the man in the street and on the farm was thinking. Smuts had not this sense. He worked out his deductions methodically and without considering the element of human character. Botha acted by instinct and was right. Smuts acted by logic and was wrong. He worked so hard, so shut in his office, his nose so close to paper, that he had no time to think or to keep in touch. He had not realised how tired the country was of him, nor the great swing of the voters against him, nor his own personal unpopularity. He also did not realise how the perquisites of power could destroy the principles of politicians and hold together men who otherwise were antagonistic. Some of the men round Hertzog had brought back the abuses of the cronies who had hung round Kruger in the old Transvaal Republic, the sale of contracts and concessions and the appointment of relatives and friends to offices and posts irrespective of their qualifications. With such things Smuts had never soiled his hands. They did not come into his calculations.

And many things helped Hertzog. Good rain fell. The drought ended. The plague of locusts ceased. Platinum was found, and money began to flow into the country again. Trade began to revive, and the mines to prosper.

As he realised the fact that he was not wanted, the arrogant assurance and the complacency died out of Smuts. He was mortally hurt in his pride, for South Africa had rejected him and his leadership and thrust him roughly out into the wilderness. He had some hobbies, but he had no ability to rest or to take a holiday, and his work in his office had absorbed his time and all his interests, so that after years of concentrated, strenuous effort the flatness of empty hours came as drab reaction. He loved power, and he had handled it so long that it irked and angered him to be powerless. Depression loaded his shoulders and weighted his feet as with lead. He shut himself away and refused to take any part in politics or to lead his party.

After a time he took a grip of himself, returned, and faced life again, resumed his normal existence, went back into politics, and led his party in opposition; but he was a changed man. He had suffered. He had tremendous self-control and he began to remodel himself completely, training himself laboriously to be more natural and human, to take more interest in other men and the common details of life, to be less self-centred, and to talk more.

In parliament he surprised both his enemies and his friends. His enemies attacked him on all occasions with sneers and with bitter, even gross, personal criticism. Smuts sat quiet. Expecting him to defend himself, his supporters shouted back abuse. Smuts did not move. He sat, sometimes staring up at the ceiling, at other times with chin on hand, impassive, wrapped in thought, his eyes far away and unseeing. Only on rare occasions was he roused by some exceptionally offensive remark or by some shrewd stab from Tielman Roos, and then his forehead would grow scarlet and he would stare at the speaker with grey, freezing eyes and with a steady, unwinking stare. His close friends knew that then he was angry, but he showed no other emotion; and his ability to sit still without moving a muscle for long periods became uncanny.

It was not that he had ceased to care or to listen. He was listening, and he was hurt intensely.

"I cannot understand," said a supporter, "how you can put up with the abuse of those fellows."

"No more can I," he replied. "Often I would like to leap at them and strangle them." And at another time, "Politicians should be pachyderms. Public life means not only the supreme enjoyment of achievement but the continuous agony of misunderstandings, of differences with friends and associates, of hideously unfair and wounding criticisms." He had created for himself a thick skin, but under that covering he was as sensitive as ever; and he had to hold himself in with a rigorous hand and in that way learn patience. "When I cannot control my temper," he said on another occasion, "I walk away."

When he spoke in the House or at meetings in the country, it was for moderation. He spoke on the attempts of the Government to force all officials to qualify in Afrikaans as well as in English; on a proposal to segregate the natives; on trade treaties which the Government were making with foreign countries, and especially with Germany and to the disadvantage of England; pleading always for moderation and to avoid any race-strife between the Dutch and the English.

Hertzog could not bring forward a proposal for a republic or secession from the British Empire, his pact with Creswell made that impossible; but he kept alive amongst the Dutch their hatred for England. He raised the question of the right of South Africa, in case England should go to war with some other nation, to declare herself neutral and still remain inside the British Empire. And in 1927 he wished to have a separate flag for South Africa and to discard the Union Jack.

Mr. Amery, the Dominions Secretary from England, was touring South Africa at the time. He suggested two separate flags to be flown, as in Malta, side by side: the one to be the Union Jack: the other a South African flag. He used every form of persuasion, but Hertzog would not compromise.

Hertzog's proposal roused all the hostility, which had begun to disappear, between the English and the Dutch. It became the topic of conversation in every village and dorp, and the burning argument in every hotel and bar and farm. It grew quickly into a quarrel, which boiled up angrily. Englishmen and Dutchmen insulted each other openly, swore they would shoot each other rather than give way.

Smuts toured the country. He opposed Hertzog's proposal, but he begged for reason and compromise. The Dutch met him everywhere with fierce hostility. His meetings were broken up, and he was howled down. At Bloemhof, in the Transvaal, Hertzog's supporters raided the hall where Smuts was due to speak, broke the furniture, chased out the police, tore up the Union Jack which was on the platform, and swore that they would kill Smuts if he persisted.

"A thousand men will not make me change my mind," replied Smuts unmoved, and kept steadily on.

The debates in the House were vitriolic. Smuts rose to speak, as now he always did, deliberately, quietly, and without heat. He expressed regret at the passions which Hertzog had roused, and in restrained, steady language he made a simple speech. Hertzog's supporters answered with howls, taunts, and more insults. A crisis was at hand. Civil war was not far off.

The Governor-General, the Earl of Athlone, saw the danger. He begged Smuts to meet Hertzog at his house. Smuts agreed readily. They dined in a party; Smuts unusually affable, Hertzog on tiptoe, expecting Smuts to patronise him. After dinner the Governor-General manoeuvred the two into a room and drew his other guests away. Three hours later Smuts and Hertzog came out. As they said good night, they nodded to each other. The controversy over the Flag had been settled. The turmoil in the country artificially roused, died down rapidly. South Africa flew her own Flag, which consisted of the republican colours with a small panel in the centre made up of the Union Jack and the flags of the two old republics; an ugly flag unworthy of South Africa. This was to be flown side by side with the Union Jack. The moderation and compromise of Smuts had won.

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