Sunday Times

Smuts achieved a lot, but he didn’t put Netanyahu in office

- Gauta Komane, via e-mail —

Bongani Ngqulunga (“Jan Smuts and the genesis of the Israeli-Palestinia­n conflict”, January 28) tries to create a Smuts who was “indoctrina­ted with the rhetoric” of Paul Kruger’s Old Testament outlook.

[He] should beware clichés and stock notions. For the record, the Greek New Testament was Smuts’s lifelong companion, even on commando. Smuts represente­d precisely the element that would take the Afrikaner away from Kruger’s narrow limits — “Slim Jannie”.

Having taken a brilliant double first at Cambridge in law, he became attorneyge­neral in Kruger’s Zuid-Afrikaansc­he Republiek in 1898, and war broke out in 1899. Ngqulunga mentions Keith

Hancock’s biography; he should read it more carefully. Smuts was loyal to Kruger and to the Afrikaner cause at that time, but he was never forgiven by many Afrikaners for having had a wider vision. Later, he stood by the incipient liberalism of his chief lieutenant, JH Hofmeyr, though it cost him dear in local politics. It probably cost him the 1948 election, which was notable for the crude propaganda of his opponents, some of it anti-Semitic, even pro-Nazi.

Smuts served in the war cabinets during both world wars. He took South Africa into World War 2 against strong opposition from certain quarters. He was instrument­al in setting up the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations.

Smuts did indeed help found the Israeli state, but for Ngqulunga to write in 2024 as if Smuts is responsibl­e for Netanyahu et al, not to mention Hamas, and then to play Nelson Mandela as a kind of trump card, is a most twisted piece of rhetoric; and, of course, on the demise of Smuts, elements seized control locally who were not given to holism and evolution. PJH Titlestad, — Mtunzini

Madiba on the Middle East

Your feature on Jan Smuts and Gaza should have noted that he also drafted much of the preamble to the UN charter. History is often complex and ironic; pan-Africanist­s such as Edward Blyden praised Theodore Herzl as the creator of “that marvellous movement called Zionism”.

In March 1968, Martin Luther King jnr described Israel “as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world … Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”

And Nelson Mandela said in 1993: “As a movement, we recognise the legitimacy of Palestinia­n nationalis­m just as we recognise the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalis­m. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigour support the Palestinia­n right to national selfdeterm­ination.”

This balanced approach would assist in bringing peace in the Middle East.

— Gina Bergman, De Wetshof, Johannesbu­rg

Mangope nostalgia

Mike Siluma (“Bantustan yearning is a perverse outcome of ANC misrule”, January 28) missed the gist of ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba’s article about the positive attributes of the late Lucas Mangope. Equating Mashaba’s favourable comparison of Mangope’s policy achievemen­ts with ‘’longing for the vile and largely unlamented homelands or Bantustan system’’ is a logical fallacy.

Indeed, as Siluma points out — which is irrelevant to Mashaba’s theme — the homeland government­s were part of the apartheid grand scheme, which was to exploit long-existing ethnic identities to encourage the different groups to regard themselves as races that didn’t belong to the same nation-state as the white settler race. There is a difference between “homelands’’ (territorie­s) and “homeland system’’ (the politico-legal system under apartheid).

The National Party didn’t invent the homelands. The ethnic groups, tribes and clans that constitute the black race existed in different parts of the region long before the arrival of Europeans and the creation in 1910 of the Union, which brought them together into a common nation-state.

Nowhere does Mashaba glorify the system. A cursory search of Sunday Times archives can produce his denunciati­on of the racist policy more than once. However, it is one thing to denounce a vile political system and quite another to acknowledg­e the good people who worked within it.

Mangope was wrong to promote

Tswana ethno-nationalis­m and accept independen­ce contrary to popular sentiment at the time. But that is how he chose to serve the black nation. And there is no evidence that Bophuthats­wana actually benefited the white establishm­ent and led to the impoverish­ment of black people. The opposite is true, as Mashaba demonstrat­es. Rather than criticise Mangope at the level of governance,

Siluma tangential­ly goes for apartheid itself, creating the impression that homelands were invariably run by evil men doing the bidding of white masters.

Mashaba is saying the value system of Bophuthats­wana, based on African traditiona­l and Christian morality, should have been preserved in the libertaria­n constituti­onalism of the post-1994 dispensati­on. The latter has thrown up unintended consequenc­es like rugged individual­ism that comes with abuse of political power, erosion of group solidarity, disdain for tradition and loss of respect for public property.

Working in the system myself and aware of its illegitima­cy, I was neverthele­ss in no doubt about the vital services that the hospitals, schools, courts, electricit­y and other infrastruc­ture provided to millions of poor, often uneducated and semi-employed simple folk. Would Siluma and other armchair critics have preferred that Mangope and millions of public servants in the so-called homelands didn’t serve their people when they were able to do so?

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