7 Move To Johannesburg
From Jan Smuts' Rise To Fame Part 1 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

SMUTS had gone to Riebeek West, to his father's house, for Christmas and the New Year. He was sitting on the stoep of the house, when the news was brought in—vague, excited news that had increased in the telling. An army of English soldiers was said to have marched from Mafeking on Pretoria. Johannesburg was up in revolt. . . . All the Dutch of the Transvaal were out, and the commandos on the move. There had been fighting. Many had been killed and hundreds wounded.

At first Smuts did not believe it. A scare story! One of the many that were flying round at that time. He knew, as everyone knew, that the trouble between the Uitlanders and Kruger had become very bitter, but it was full of big words and threats and there was little danger of any real action. There was no English army near Mafeking. But as more reports came in, he realised that something serious had happened. ,p>Cape Town was buzzing with excitement. The facts were clear. Dr. Jameson with a party of police had raided into the Transvaal, been surrounded, and, after some fighting, captured by the Transvaal General, Cronje, and was likely to be shot in Pretoria. Prominent Uitlanders from Johannesburg had been arrested for plotting to join with Jameson to upset the Government by force, and were in the civil prison in Pretoria charged with treason. And Rhodes must have known all about it. He must, in fact, have himself, and secretly, organised the whole plot and the raid. That became more obvious as more facts came out. He had sent his brother to help organise the Uitlanders. Arms had been smuggled to them by the officials of the De Beers company under his orders, in cases and tins addressed to the company, and had been stored in the mines. The secretary of the company had been his principal confidant and had handled the correspondence and used special codes to send instructions. Dr. Jameson was his closest friend, and letters and telegrams showing his part, with most of the details of the scheme, had been captured by the Dutch amongst Jameson's luggage. The sending of Jameson to Pitsani to protect the railway had been just bluff. Men sent by Rhodes had mapped out the route from Pitsani to Pretoria and made depots for food and fresh horses, and one party had made a depot at Irene, a farm a few miles from Pretoria. Without a doubt it was a plot by Rhodes to make the English dominant in the Transvaal, and he had not given one word of warning to his Dutch friends and supporters.

The Bond met. The leaders, Hofmeyr and Schreiner, boiled with indignation. They had been fooled and betrayed by Rhodes: they had believed his talk of a united South Africa with Dutchmen and Englishmen working together as brothers. Brothers! And all the time he had been plotting this thing with Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary of the English Government, and with the Imperialists in England, to smash the Dutch Government of the Transvaal with English soldiers and to make England supreme in all South Africa! He had planned it right under their noses while he was leading them the other way with his talk of co-operation. It was treachery! Black treachery! They became again simple Dutchmen and angry Dutchmen, hating the English. They demanded that Rhodes be hounded out; that all the English be ejected from South Africa. They must get clear of Rhodes, denounce him, cut all connection with him as quickly as possible and before they were themselves involved in his ruin.

Hofmeyr cursed Rhodes publicly. "Now he has done this thing," he said, "he is no friend of mine," and telegraphed his congratulations to Kruger and demanded that the High Commissioner should repudiate Rhodes and outlaw Jameson.

The Bond followed their leaders; but this did not explain their close friendship and their enthusiastic support of Rhodes either to their followers or to the rest of the Dutch. In the heat of the moment, with tempers rising, they were attacked from every side and treated as traitors.

For Smuts it meant more. He had followed Hofmeyr, but of Rhodes he had made a leader and a hero. He had overcome his natural reserve, allowed himself to become enthusiastic openly, publicly, exposed himself, come out of his shell; and being still very thin-skinned, he had suffered accordingly. His hero had shown himself an unprincipled and treacherous adventurer. His hero-worship had been destroyed as by a sudden, scorching flame. His pride was hurt, for he had been publicly made a fool of, and he had been cheated. His enthusiasm for Rhodes, which had been the drive and the spur for months of all his actions, dried up and shrivelled. He tore Rhodes out of his life and out of his consciousness, but it left him empty and lost and leaderless.

He had to pay too, for he had been one of the most vigorous of Rhodes' supporters: canvassed his ideas; spoken for him; extolled the English and England. And that speech at Kimberley was thrown in his teeth; Olive Schreiner laughed at him: at his defence of Rhodes, the great man, the incorruptible; and at a time when every barman was talking of what he was preparing; and Smuts could not bear to be laughed at. It was for. him like cutting into raw quick beneath a finger-nail. His Dutch acquaintances looked sideways at him, avoided him, and spoke against him. What explanation had he of that speech at Kimberley? He had no explanation. And he had no explanation because he had counted on Rhodes to give him a start in life. With that start and Rhodes to back him he could have built up a practice in the Cape and gone into Cape politics. All that was gone. His future, his career, all that he had counted on. He had nothing to look forward to except to be treated by his people, the Dutch, as a traitor, or to be patronised by the English.

There was nothing left for him. He decided to lie low and hope that the storm would pass. He slid back into his old life and his reserved ways. For several weeks he kept very quiet and spent much of his time at Riebeek West. He went frequently to Stellenbosch to see the Kriges and to get what the girl alone could give him—the recovery of his belief in himself. Though often attacked, he made no attempt to defend himself. The idea of writing to the newspapers or appearing on a public platform made him go hot all over. He could not face ridicule.

For a time he was in despair. There seemed nothing for him. He had been badly hurt both in his belief in men and in his ambition. But he was young and not easily crushed, and the girl, Isie Krige, urged him on. She was stout-hearted and she believed in him. At last he took a grip of himself and started to replan his life. Politics seemed closed to him. He could not stay in Cape Town. Its associations, its life, and the English, who still upheld Rhodes, filled him with nostalgia. Farming was not his line. He must go elsewhere. To Johannesburg? Johannesburg was the place with chances for a young barrister, with its wealth and its movement and its quarrelsome mixed population. Cape Town was dead beside Johannesburg. The centre of South Africa had moved to Johannesburg.

He made a tour to the Transvaal to have a look round, and made up his mind. He would go to Johannesburg. In the autumn of 1896 he closed his office in Cape Town, applied to be admitted to the Transvaal Bar, ignored his British nationality, and, as soon as he was admitted, opened an office in Commissioner Street in Johannesburg, and began to practise.

« NEXT » « Part 1 » « Grey Steel » « History » « Library » « Home »