Seven Votes, how WWll changed South Africa forever, a review by Geoff Olivier…

Seven Votes by Richard Steyn

I am fortunate to have a brother who was involved in teaching at SACS for some 35 years, teaching amongst other things art, history and Afrikaans. He is staying with us and I gave him this book to read. He was then asked to write a review. Here it is.

Seven Votes is easy to read and free flowing as well as being a depth study. The coverage gives a very good lead up through the period from the South African War through the Milner era and Union and how both Smuts and Hertzog differed in their approaches to local politics and social issues as well as international affairs and how they affected and would affect South Africa. It follows Fusion, unification and the tumultuous split when voting for neutrality or war.

Jan Smuts is described as the ‘internationalist’ far seeing in South Africa’s place in the Commonwealth and the world, while on the other side, Barry Hertzog, the ‘inward looking’, hard core Afrikaner ‘nationalist’. Their sometimes turbulent and truculent relationship in the Fusion government and then United Party is made clear and it leads to a decision in 1938 where Smuts agreed to signing an intent to remain neutral in the Britain vs Hitler policies in Europe. This soon develops into a tussle about where the country stood in relation to Hitler wanting the return of South West Africa, which Smuts saw as a threat to South Africa’s security while Hertzog speaks of the unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles.

Hertzog is portrayed as being sure of the support of the majority in the cabinet as well as the House, and being positive that the Governor General would call an election if there was a disputed vote, whereas Smuts lobbies strongly to persuade cabinet members and MP’s to support Britain and the Commonwealth in this dispute and trusts the Governor-General to do the right thing in the event of a disputed outcome. D.F. Malan, leader of the opposition, on the other hand, supports the neutrality and in fact looks to a Hitler victory as good for South Africa.

Geoff Olivier

The vote, won by Smuts, ends Hertzog’s time in politics and sees the rise of D.F. Malan in the early phases of the war when Hitler and Germany are on the ascendancy, but he soon changes his tune to gradually undermine the Ossewabrandwag and Broederbond to distance himself somewhat from Hitler’s National Socialist stance, but stays by his belief in race superiority.

The book follows accurately the process toward the 1943 ‘Khaki’ victory for Smuts, but then tracks his difficulty in trying to resolve the race/colour problem in South Africa, but not torpedoing his political career. Smuts is also portrayed as having difficulty at reconciling his internationalist view and contrary to that view, his inability to find a solution to the race issue in South Africa as opposed to the internal, fully democratic, and almost multiracial view of J.H.Hofmeyr, his deputy. It portrays how D.F. Malan exploits that issue and promotes the idea of the ‘swart gevaar’, ‘black danger’ to principally the white Afrikaners of the potential of his people being overwhelmed by the majority black population.

Richard Steyn, Author of Seven Votes

The author also covers the rise of black political opposition and activism, especially post-WW2, as well as the opposition of India to South Africa’s segregation policy. He takes this a step further with the United Nations, the brainchild of Smuts, being used as a weapon against South Africa’s race policies.

The author, Richard Steyn, has written an informative and in-depth study of the time leading up to the vote to go to war, the results of it in South Africa’s turbulent politics and the possible outcome of the vote having gone in favour of Neutrality. He then follows the defeat of the United Party and the end to the illustrious, but turbulent career of General Jan Christian Smuts.

Seven Votes by Richard Steyn is published by Jonathan Ball – CLICK HERE


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