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Doornkloof – the humble home of Jan Smuts, father of holism
We are one with nature
This is the opening sentence of Jan Smuts's great book in which he introduced to the world the philosophical concept of “holism.” The sentence reveals his concern with the inter-connectedness of life. As he said, “We are indeed one with nature.”
It was perhaps his love of nature which led him to buy a farm called “Doornkloof (Thorn Valley)” in the little town of Irene just to the south of Pretoria in the early years of the 20th Century.
In 1908 he bought a wood and iron building formerly used as an officers' mess in Middleburg and had it transported to Doornkloof as the farmhouse. It still stands as it did when Smuts and his family took occupation in the middle of 1909. It is now a museum and memorial to one of the least understood, yet greatest, of South African leaders.
Brief background to Smuts
Smuts was twice Prime Minister of the then Union of South Africa, the second time during the trying years of World War II, when he was simultaneously contributing to the war effort of the allies and fending off those in South Africa who were against the war effort and wanting to support Hitler against the “English”.
Born on a farm in Malmesbury in the then Cape Colony on 24 May 1870, he only started going to school at the age of 12 when his older brother died. His formidable intellect and self-discipline ensured that he caught up to his fellows within four years and went on to University at the age of 16. He graduated with double firsts in literature and science, gaining him access to a scholarship which enabled him to go to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he read law and wrote a book on Walt Whitman called Walt Whitman: A Study in the Evolution of Personality which was, for various reasons, not published until 1973.
In 1894 Smuts entered the Middle Temple but felt the need to return to South Africa rather than follow a legal career in London. In 1895 he returned to the Cape.
N 1897 Smuts married Isie Krige whom he had met while studying at Stellenbosch. In 1898 Smuts was invited by President Paul Kruger of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR – South African Republic) to be the country's State Attorney. Smuts was a long-time supporter of Southern African unity and worked hard to bring it about, even while working within the rather narrow political confines of the ZAR.
In 1902 Smuts wrote: “When Mr Cecil Rhodes appeared on the scene in 1889 as Premier of the Cape Colony under Bond auspices, with a platform of racial conciliation, political consolidation of South Africa and northern expansion, my natural bias as well as the glamour of magnificence which distinguished this policy from the 'parish pump politics' of his predecessors, made me a sort of natural convert to his views. I began to dream of a great South Africa in which the English and the Boer peoples would dwell together in happy concord."
During the South African War (the Boer War) Smuts displayed his military genius and kept the British Army busy long after the British had captured all the cities and towns in the Orange Free State and the ZAR. His leadership and legal skills also meant that he was called upon to help with the drafting of the peace accord that finally ended the conflict. It was his first, and certainly not his last, contribution to international affairs.
In the years after the war the movement for South African unity grew and Smuts was again at the front of his people. When Union finally came in 1910 he was appointed to the first Cabinet of the new country by Prime Minister Louis Botha, a friend and colleague from the days of the ZAR.
When World War I broke out in 1914 Smuts helped to create the South African Defence Force which he, along with Botha, led into the then German South West Africa (now Namibia), where they defeated the German forces.
In 1916 he was put in charge of defeating the German forces in German East Africa. In 1917 he was invited by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George to join the Imperial War Cabinet, in which position he was instrumental is forming the Royal Air Force as an independent military organisation.
After the defeat of the German forces Smuts and Botha were part of the negotiating team at Versailles, where they argued forcefully, though unsuccessfully, for reconciliation and a limitation on war reparations. Smuts was the only person to sign both the Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I and the Paris Peace Treaties of February 1947 which formally ended World War II.
Botha died in 1919 and Smuts became Prime Minister until 1924 when he was defeated by the Nationalist Party under General I.B.M.Hertzog. Smuts retired to Doornkloof to write his magnum opus, Holism and Evolution.
Back to Doornkloof
And so it is to Doornkloof that this Hub returns.
It is still a beautiful place, with lovely views and lush grass covering a 'koppie' on which the Oubaas (literally Old Boss, a term of endearment used by large numbers of his followers and associates) used to take long walks and where he continued his habit of acute botanical observation. He was intensely interested in grasses, writing, “Directly or indirectly, all life is grass...the whole future of the human race...is dependent on our grass resources.”
Smuts found peace and inspiration in Doornkloof. It was his refuge and solace in the many vicissitudesof an active political life.
Famous people came to stay with the Smuts's. During World War II when Smuts was again Prime Minister. The Greek Royal family settled in South Africa and Princess Frederica stayed with the Smuts family, in the so-called “Best Bedroom.” Her last child was born in South Africa and Christened “Irene” with Smuts as godfather.
King George VI also visited the farm when he toured South Africa with his family in 1947.
Smuts lived simply on Doornkloof, surrounded by his extensive library and his family. And it was here that he died in 1950 after suffering a coronary thrombosis.
His legacy lives on especially in the Pre-amble to the Charter of the United Nations which he helped to draft in San Francisco in May 1945.
He had been determined that the United Nations would not suffer from the same structural defects that the League of Nations, which he also helped to form, had suffered from.
But perhaps most important is the legacy which one touches at Doornkloof, the spirit of peace and reflection, of oneness with all of life, the oneness he wrote so eloquently about in Holism and Evolution.
On the farm there is now a Place of Quiet “dedicated to all who in silence seek harmony and peace for all mankind.” A profound legacy indeed.
His spiritual and optimistic voice can be heard in some of the final sentences from Holism and Evolution which express his profound hope for humanity: “Wholeness, healing, holiness – all expressions and ideas springing from the same root in language as in experience – lie on the rugged upward path of the universe, and are secure of attainment – in part here and now, and eventually more fully and truly. The rise and self-perfection of wholes in the Whole is the slow but unerring process and goal of this Holistic universe.”
A gallery of photos of the interior of the big houseClick thumbnail to view full-size
The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.
© Tony McGregor 2010