WHEN Smuts received the message he had to make the most difficult decision of his life. He was convinced that he could break the Government, go to the country, and come back with a big majority to be Prime Minister for at least five years. It meant for him the end of this stagnation of his life, of useless opposition. It meant power and the work that was his lifeblood. He was young no more. He had curbed much of his impatience, but he could not afford to be patient now. He had only a few years ahead left to him.
For a minute he drew back and offered to resign and clear the way for others. He was wanted and respected in England. There was big work that he could do there. But his supporters, Patrick Duncan and the others, would not have it. It would be deserting, leaving South Africa in the lurch, and leaving them in the lurch. They had stood by him when times had been bad. He must in loyalty continue to lead them, especially now that there was success ahead. He had only two courses : to fight for power and to be Prime Minister, or to combine with Hertzog.
To make up his mind, he needed to be alone. He walked away out on to the mountains, to think as he walked, and came back to spend a night as well, making up his mind.
To combine with Hertzog was to combine with the man who had attacked him for years. He must forget all the insults. He did not find that difficult, but he would have to tread down his pride, for Hertzog was to remain as Prime Minister and he was to be only his deputy. He would have little power and yet much responsibility and have to bear the blame for all the errors.
He would have to be for ever compromising on his principles and consenting to much with which he did not agree, and this was contrary to his whole character. He would not be able to act without constant consultation with Hertzog, and he could not help looking down on Hertzog as slow-witted, dull, and without vision. He must conceal his feelings and continually curb his impatience. In all this there was little that appealed to him, but that was what coalition with Hertzog would mean for him personally. His whole instinct, his whole being, craved to fight, to win power, and to rule.
And if he fought? What then? He looked round. He saw all round him the beginnings of a new nation, stirring with awkward movements as a child but newly born. Out of the discords and the travail of the past, out of the errors and the tragedies, the insistence of Kruger, the ambition of Rhodes, the clear-eyed hauteur of Milner, the tragedy of Jameson's Raid, the horrors and the hatred of the war between the Dutch and the English, the English soldiers and the Dutch burghers lying dead side by side on the battlefields, the despair and the strivings of the years from defeat to self-government to Union; out of the Rebellion, the World War, and the strife with Labour, he saw that a nation had been born, a nation of Dutchmen and Englishmen who were realising vaguely that this South Africa was theirs, and that though they might often disagree, yet they were brothers, that they were the South African Nation.
If he fought now, he would renew and perpetuate the rivalry between the Dutch and the English, and perhaps stifle this young nation at its birth.
Rhodes, Hofmeyr, Jameson, Merriman, Kruger, Milner, Kitchener, de Villiers, Steyn, Campbell-Bannerman, de Wet, de la Rey, and many more. They had all taken a part and they were all gone. Only Hertzog and he remained.
He looked down the years behind him and saw failure and achievement, elation and despair, like sunshine and shadow in a wood, mixed together in a broken pattern, and through that broken pattern came forming something: came forming the figure of an ideal, of his Ideal. Out of smaller units was being formed a finer Unity: out of men and races and provinces, a Nation.
And Botha? What would have he decided? Botha had loved South Africa. He loved South Africa as intensely, as desperately, as passionately, as Botha had loved her.
"What is best for South Africa?" Botha would have asked. The answer to that question should be his decision. If he combined with Hertzog, South Africa would have peace. She would suffer from the normal pains of growing and from the many ailments of a child, but she would have the chance to grow up lusty and strong into a nation.
He made his decision. He renounced his pride his arrogant, contempt for the little men with whom he must work, his personal interests, his desire and his whole instinct to fight and win power and to rule; and he held out the hand of friendship to Hertzog, who grasped it.
At a general election in the spring of 1933 they swept the country. No opposition worth the name remained. There were no Dutch and no English parties. They were united. South Africa might develop in peace.
And by that Act of Renunciation, Jan Christiaan Smuts broke faith with his interests and his instincts and kept faith with his Ideal.
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