Louis Botha Feature – Witness Commended

The Witness is to be commended for presenting a positive angle on South African history in considering Richard Steyn’s newly published work on the country’s first prime minister, Louis Botha (October 1).

With the proliferation of books focusing on what is called ‘struggle’ history and those associated with it, the perception that has been advanced, wittingly or unwittingly, is that nothing of merit occurred before 1994.

The first study of Botha since Johannes Meintjes’s 1970 biography, Louis Botha – A Man Apart is, therefore, a timely and welcome reminder of the need to view the past through an objective lens, as Helen Zille has tried to contend. Of course, those bent on wall-to-wall condemnation of the entire pre-1994 period will note that it was Botha’s government which enacted the Land Act of 1913 the legacy of which the country is grappling with today.

However, beyond the role, Botha played at Versailles, as excerpted from Steyn’s book, Louis Botha, like George Washington, faced the difficult task of trying to forge common political ground between different and diverse colonies. Besides unifying the civil service and establishing national administrative departments, Louis Botha’s key aim was to cultivate reconciliation between English and Afrikaans-speaking whites.

Also forgotten is Botha’s magnanimity in releasing Zulu king Dinizulu from prison because he believed Dinizulu had been unjustly treated by the Natal colonial judiciary for his alleged role in the Bhambatha rebellion. On Botha’s orders, Dinizulu was granted a farm near Middelberg along with an annual pension of £500. Louis Botha is an overlooked and understudied figure in South African history whose experience and challenges remain relevant.

Sent into The Witness and published, 4 October 2018.

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