"One of the faces of General Jan Smuts" Top 5 Page for this destination Cape Town CBD Tip by CatherineReichardt

Cape Town CBD, Cape Town: 34 reviews and 52 photos

  Statue of Jan Smuts outside the National Gallery
by CatherineReichardt

General Jan Christian Smuts is perhaps the most divisive and intriguing of South African political figures: a man that fought both against and with the British (in the Anglo Boer War one one side, and in the two World Wars on the other), who was both a proud Afrikaner and an unashamed Anglophile, an unpretentious man who lived in a former railwayman's house made of corrugated iron, but loved hobnobbing with royalty (and indeed, played host to the British royal family in the aforesaid house during their visit to South Africa in 1952). He was one of the original architects of the League of Nations (the predecessor to the United Nations) and - other than Nelson Mandela - was the the South African politician who exerted the greatest influence on 20th world century.

Smuts' unswerving support of the British during World War II meant that he was increasingly seen as a traitor by his own people, and his shock defeat in the post war election in 1948 opened the door to the rise of the ultra nationalist National Party, which heralded the dawn of the apartheid era. To be fair, Smuts was no bleeding heart liberal, but his departure heralded the country's descent into institutionalised racial segregation and the formal policy of 'separate development' on racial grounds that were to prove to be such a toxic period of South African history.

I find Smuts an immensely charismatic figure: quixotic, sometimes misguided, occasionally contradictory, but riviting in his passion and inspiring in his achievements ... and, above all, never, ever dull (which puts him in a league of his own compared to his dour Afrikaaner contemporaries).

Smuts was originally from the Cape and had a particular penchant for retreating into quiet, remote places to think. He was particularly fond of Table Mountain, and both this statue outside the National Gallery (and the Jan Smuts statue outside the Slave House) appear to be based on a famous picture of Smuts sitting in contemplation at the top of Table Mountain. He would most certainly have approved of the fact that this particular statue boasts a fine view of the mountain as a backdrop!

If you're interested in finding out more about Smuts, have a look on my Pretoria pages, where his former homestead in Irene (where his ashes were scattered) has been turned into the fascinating Jan Smuts House museum that is a fitting monument to his complex legacy.

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Feb 1, 2012
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