Jan Smuts: Unafraid of Greatness, by Richard Steyn
Richard Steyn's highly readable biography of Jan Smuts, Unafraid of Greatness examines a number of overarching themes his military, political and private life.
In Parliament Square in London, there are eleven statues. Four of them are of non-Britons, and two of those - Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela - are South African. The third is America's Abraham Lincoln and the recently added fourth, Mahatma Gandhi. While Mandela, Lincoln and Gandhi have been the subjects of many contemporary articles, books and films, Smuts, by contrast, has been allowed to drift into obscurity. Yet in his time, South Africa's warrior-leader and international statesman was a figure of comparable stature and renown. 'In his time' is the key phrase, because Smuts's views on empire and race, forged in the nineteenth century and typical of most of his contemporaries, have put him beyond the pale in modern, majority-ruled South Africa. As a founding father and the architect of a new country more than a century ago, his preoccupation was the welding of white Afrikaners and English-speakers into a united nation, under the shelter of an imperial umbrella. Smuts and his fellow whites, settled in precarious isolation at the foot of Africa, were confronted by a 'native problem' that seemed insoluble. While insistent that South Africa was a unitary country, full of promise, in which black and white people had no option but to work out their future together, he thought - mistakenly - that the 'native question' could be kept separate from politics. Smuts was a firm believer in the inevitability of gradual change in biological, social and political evolution. South Africans, he asserted repeatedly, should resolve their political, economic and cultural differences in an atmosphere of hope rather than fear. Political solutions would come only in the fullness of time. If there is one trait common to the four figures in Parliament Square which has won them the affection and respect of the British people, it is that highest of political virtues - magnanimity. Lincoln's generosity of spirit towards his political rivals, and America's slaves, was the key to his greatness as a human being and president. Gandhi's humanity is legendary, while Mandela's great-heartedness in reaching out to his captors and political foes after 27 years of incarceration will forever be held up as an example to mankind. And Smuts too, once a fiery opponent of the British, was so inspired by the generosity of spirit displayed by Henry Campbell-Bannerman in granting self-government to the defeated Boers that he devoted the rest of his life to spreading 'the contagion of magnanimity' among South Africans and Britons, Afrikaners and English-speakers, and warring nations the world over. Jan Smuts was an Afrikaner of extraordinary intellect, versatility and resilience. A scholar, lawyer, guerrilla leader, military commander, philosopher, scientist, politician and international statesman, his uniqueness as a human being lay in his deep spirituality, his physical bravery, his love of nature, the spartan quality of his personal life, and the pleasure he derived from simple things. Above all, he was a seeker: a lifelong searcher after religious truth and those eternal values that could be applied to politics and other spheres of human endeavour. Like Job, his faith was sorely tested throughout a tumultuous, 80-year-long life marred by personal tragedy, inner struggle and despair, and the bitter enmity of many Afrikaners who had once revered him. [...]
This is an excerpt from the biography: Jan Smuts: Unafraid of Greatness, by Richard Steyn.
Title: Jan Smuts
Subtitle: Unafraid of Greatness
Author: Richard Steyn
Publisher: Jonathan Ball Publishers
Cape Town, South Africa 2015
ISBN 9781868424184 / ISBN 978-1-86842-418-4
Softcover, 15 x 23 cm, 278 pages, numerous b/w photos and imgages
Steyn, Richard im Namibiana-Buchangebot
Unafraid of Greatness is a re-examination of the life and thought of South African statesman, politician and solider Jan Smuts.
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