The Smuts House Museum seeks to represent faithfully the life-style and multi-facetted career of one of South Africa's greatest sons, General J. C. Smuts, and to promote the holistic vision which he expounded in his life and writings.
URGENT APPEAL FOR FUNDING
The General Smuts Foundation has for the past 60 years been exclusively responsible for the preservation of Smuts House Museum and the Doornkloof property, including the koppie and obelisk commemorating Jan and Isie Smuts and family members. Although declared a National Monument, there has regrettably been absolutely no Government support for this exceptional South African Heritage site, nor does the Foundation have any Trust reserves or Lotto funding at its disposal and has had to rely entirely on whatever sources of revenue it can muster, just to maintain the House and its grounds. Thanks to the Covid-19 disaster and its dire consequences, those resources have now unfortunately entirely dried up, thus rendering the Foundation's financial situation untenable. We stand in immediate danger of losing, not only the house, but with it, the great man’s library, which alone should be rated as a world heritage site on a par with that of Darwin, Churchill and Lincoln, to name but a few.
General Jan Smuts was by far the greatest South African ever. He survived the Anglo Boer War (after several very close shaves) and two World Wars, having played major leadership roles in all three events, not to mention the establishment of the United Nations and the State of Israel. He became the country’s Prime Minister in 1919 at the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic and how we now wish that a person of his stature was again amongst us to lead the country through its present plight.
The “Friends of Smuts House” is a group of volunteers dedicated to the preservation of the Smuts Museum through its fundraising fund raising activities, and whose Chairlady, Marion Mengell, would like to urgently appeal to members of the public and organisations who admire and care about the legacy of General Smuts and his wife Isie, to assist the Foundation in this time of crisis. Any donations to it, great or small, would be gratefully received and put to extremely good use, as would any other support you might be able to offer. If you are able to assist, please click on the DONATE tab for details on how to proceed.
Members of the FRIENDS OF SMUTS HOUSE would like to say a sincere note of thanks to those people who have donated money as a result of this appeal. Unfortunately, although we know your names (from the bank notifications) we do not always know your contact details or we would be thanking you personally. Please be assured of our gratitude.
If you have donated (and didn't supply your email address), or if you still intend to do so, please fill out the form on the DONATE tab so that we can send our thanks. Despite the reasonable response to our appeal on the Jan Smuts Facebook group, we still need much more support so any further donations will be gratefully received.
Please note that, owing to the Covid-19 lockdown, the annual Smuts Memorial Service, scheduled for 24 May 2020, has had to be cancelled. We hope to hold this instead in September this year, on the 70th anniversary of General Smuts' passing in 1950. Planning is in progress.
The Big House - Home of the Smuts Family
General Smuts bought, for £300, the wood-and-iron building that had served as the officers' mess. It is believed that the building was originally prefabricated in Britain, taken to India by the British Army and later shipped to South Africa. Now, once again the building was dismantled. It was brought to Pretoria by rail, and thence to the farm Doornkloof by ox wagon, where it was re-erected at the substantial cost of £1000 in 1909. General Smuts was at sea, on the way to England as a member of the National Convention delegation, when Mrs Smuts moved her family into the house on 10 July 1909. The plan was altered on rebuilding, and as the years passed a kitchen and pantry (1918) and other rooms were added, and verandahs were enclosed (front verandah, 1942).
The Big House is, however, substantially as it was a century ago. The unpretentious building strikingly illustrates Smuts's indifference to luxury and ease of living, and here he spent the happiest hours of his life. Among the famous guests whom Ouma, Smuts' wife, entertained in her home were the British Royal Family, who visited them at Doornkloof while on the Royal Tour in 1947. General Smuts found his peace at Doornkloof. It was to Doornkloof that he retreated from the affairs of State which occupied so much of his life. At Doornkloof Smuts could indulge his absorbing passions for botany and philosophy. There he could enjoy the simple life of a farmer, father and grandfather.
After his death in 1950, Mrs Smuts continued to live in the only real home she had ever known, until her death in 1954. Both General and Mrs Smuts died in the Big House. Their ashes were scattered, as were those of other family members, on the top of Smuts Koppie - the rugged hill behind the house. The Smuts House also served as Lord Kitchener's Mess in Middelburg, Transvaal.
General Smuts is widely known for being an avid lover of both Philosophy and Botany. Smuts grew up on the Smuts family farm, Bovenplaats, in the Cape Colony. He would often go out alone and explore the countryside. Throughout his lifetime he went on many botanical expeditions all across South Africa, where he would collect plants.
Smuts was also a mountaineer and one of his favorite treks was up Table Mountain. This route is now named Smut's Track in commemoration of the General. His love for botany can be seen in the stunning wild gardens on the Smuts' property. Some of the trees on the stand have very special history to them, such as the Magnolia seeds were planted by Ouma from seeds given to her by Emily Hobhouse. The London Plane trees on the property also have historical value as they were planted there by MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) Shellholes.
The three brochures below are available at the entrance desk at a cost of R15 each. These 16 page brochures supply much background information about the Big House, Jan and Isie Smuts and the various displays in the Museum. The brochures contain many useful images and will serve as valuable keepsake for your visit.
The General Smuts Foundation
Mrs Kitty Smuts, Smuts' daughter-in-law, widow of Japie Smuts, inherited the Big House. Finding it difficult to maintain the old house, she offered it to various organisations, but they declined her offers. The Smuts family removed items of furniture and objects of sentimental value from the Big House while items of significant historical interest were donated to institutions best able and willing to preserve them.
There was interest in the property, the Big House was on the point of being sold to a German consortium for purposes of establishing a sanatorium at which stage it came to the notice of Guy Braithwaite who stepped in and bought the property. In July 1960, a contract was concluded whereby the Big House and 25 morgen (21 hectares or 53 acres) of surrounding land were sold for £7000 by Mrs Kitty Smuts to Mr Braithwaite, an ex-serviceman and Pretoria attorney. Mr Braithwaite personally paid the 10% deposit on the same day. He announced proudly that "Doornkloof had been secured for the nation as a permanent memorial to the Oubaas and Ouma and all the ideals which we cherished and for which we fought during the war years".
A congress of ex-servicemen and servicewomen's organizations was held at Doornkloof on 8 October 1960, at which it was decided that a Section 21 company (i.e. a non-profit company), to be known as the General Smuts War Veterans' Foundation, should be registered "to hold Doornkloof in perpetuity"
The culmination of these early efforts was the declaration, in 1969, of the Big House as a National Monument by notice in the Government Gazette, No. 2551 of 31 October 1969. In 1994 the name of the General Smuts War Veterans' Foundation was changed to The General Smuts Foundation.
The General Smuts Foundation is registered as a Non-Profit Organisation. The Board of Directors and the Executive Committee members sponsor their time and skills to keep the legacy and history available to future generations. The Foundation receives no grants, nor financial assistance from government or private quarters. We wish to appeal to the history-loving public to contribute with donations, volunteering skills and sponsorships. We are also embarking on a Patron Programme to encourage both awareness and monetary assistance. Please click here for further information.
The General Smuts Foundation still owns and administers Doornkloof. The tea garden, caravan park and Arts and Crafts Market generate some of the funds necessary for the day-to-day administration of the museum.
The administration of the Smuts House Museum is an interesting model for cultural preservation in South Africa today. Government does not have the resources to preserve the cultural heritage of all interest groups, and the onus for the identification and preservation of specific sites and aspects of history will have to rest on those with a particular interest in their preservation.
Financial Contributions and/or Smuts memorabilia will be most gratefully accepted.