Dr Antonio Garcia, research fellow, Department of Military History, Stellenbosch University; Professor van der Waag, Rabdan Academy and Zayed Military University, Abu Dhabi, Professor Emeritus, Department of Military History, Stellenbosch University   

Monday 15–Tuesday 16 January 3.00 pm COURSE FEES R220; Staff and students R110

These two lectures will examine the varied, complex roles played by Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts during the First World War. Uniquely in this war, they formed the apex of the country’s political and military leadership. Fascinating and enigmatic figures, they loom large on the South African, British Imperial and Commonwealth historical landscapes. The course will explore their similarities and differences, and welcome in-depth discussion on the emotional intelligence of Botha – a man lionised in his own day, and the Union’s first Prime Minister – and the intellectual prowess of Smuts, his deputy, and the Minister of Defence. They are flawed yet significant figures, and the audience is invited to share in the debate on how Botha, appealing to different audiences in a fractured South Africa, demonstrated his understanding and pragmatic approach to business, agriculture, and war. In comparison, Smuts applied his intellect and energy to South Africa’s problems using the pen and the sword in equal measure, but seemingly with little long-term resolution of the national problems their leadership and succeeding generations of South Africans would face. Once prominent, they are today divisive figures who represent different things to different people. These lectures offer a contemporary discussion putting Botha and Smuts in the context of the ongoing historical dialogue. These brilliantly imperfect figures were in some ways like Greco-Roman heroes. They fought seemingly insurmountable odds, and at times achieved great victories, but they were also warriors who made startling errors, and ultimately – in classical fashion – they were crushed by the weight of the world they tried to create.

Lecture titles

  1. Botha, Smuts and the Great War, 1914–1916: on campaign
  2. Botha, Smuts and the Great War, 1917–1918: Pretoria and London

Recommended reading

Garcia, A. and Van Der Waag, I. 2022. Botha, Smuts, and the Great War. Warwick: Helion & Co.