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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Botha, Louis

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BOTHA, LOUIS (1862–1919), Dutch South African statesman (see 4.303). The intention which Botha declared during his visit to England in 1907—to work for the welfare of South Africa regardless of racial differences—he subsequently carried out to the full. It became the main object of his life. During the Imperial Conference of 1907 Botha met Dr. (later Sir Starr) Jameson for the first time; at least there is no known record of any earlier meeting between the two men. Their meeting was destined to have momentous results for South Africa. They became close friends. Already in the minds of both there must have been the belief that the true interests of the country demanded union between the four colonies, Cape Colony, the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony (as it had been called since the South African War), and Natal. The belief was gaining ground, and in 1909 it took shape in the calling of a National Convention to form a scheme of closer union. Botha led the Transvaal delegation; Jameson that from the Cape. As the two leading colonies, the Cape and the Transvaal had on the whole the decisive voice in the Convention.

Botha's personal share in the work of the Convention was important. It confirmed the opinion, already strong in South Africa, that Botha was the natural leader of the South African Dutch, and had qualities of personality and statesmanship which marked him out as the inevitable man to be first Prime Minister of a united country. Botha's qualities were put to a severe test while the Convention sat. Then, and when the Union Act had been framed and he went with the South African delegation to England to see it through Parliament, Botha gave proofs of steady wisdom, self-control, and a far-sighted patriotism. Thus, when the Union was inaugurated by the first Governor-General, Lord Gladstone, in 1910, it was with the approval of the great majority of South Africans that Lord Gladstone summoned him as Prime Minister to form the first South African Cabinet.

Suggestions had been made that the first Union Ministry should be formed of both the principal parties in the old colonies. Botha rejected these proposals, though it was believed at the time that they appealed to his personal desires. His Ministry represented, in the great majority of its members, the Dutch of South Africa and the political parties in the old colonies to which they adhered, though it included a representation of the English-speaking people of Natal. Botha had decided that to form what was known at the time as a “Best Man” Government would be to invite a fatal reaction towards crude racialism among the mass of the South African Dutch. Nevertheless the reaction came, for all his attempts to avoid it, before his Cabinet had been in office even for half of its term of five years. It came in the form of a revolt against his moderation and his attempts to hold the balance even as between English and Dutch. The revolt was led by General Hertzog, and caused a split in the Ministry and the dismissal of Hertzog in Dec. 1912. Botha reformed his Ministry, again without the inclusion of any members of the Unionist party—representing, with account taken of the influence of the Labour party in the cities, the English-speaking population.

In 1914 came the World War. Botha at once declared himself for Great Britain, prepared an expeditionary force against the neighbouring German colony of South-West Africa, and had landed his first detachments upon its coast when a rebellion of the Dutch flared out behind him in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, whose old name had been restored by the Act of Union. Botha took the field himself, crushed the rebellion by a series of rapid thrusts, went himself to German South-West Africa and completed the conquest of that country, and then organized both a force to assist in the British invasion of German East Africa and an expeditionary unit to fight for the Allies on the western front in Europe. These achievements were made possible by a decisive victory at the polls in 1915 and by the steady cooperation of the Unionist party in Parliament. When Mr. Lloyd George became Prime Minister of Great Britain at the end of 1916 and summoned the Imperial War Cabinet, Botha found his South African preoccupations too heavy to allow him to attend it; but he sent in General Smuts his alter ego, whose abilities, insight and cool judgment were invaluable to the British Government. Smuts became the single permanent dominion member of the Imperial War Cabinet, but his absence from South Africa threw a vast burden of work on Botha as Prime Minister. Botha found time to come to Europe to represent South Africa at the Paris Peace Conference, where his wisdom and sound judgment increased a European reputation already equal to that of any other dominion Prime Minister. He did not approve of many of the terms of the Peace Treaty, and did not hesitate to say so. But he was in full accord with the development in British institutions which accorded to the dominion representatives in Paris the status of delegates from self-governing States equal in nationhood to the other Powers, and upon this development he insisted repeatedly after his return to South Africa. He died very soon after his return. His health had been failing for some time. Influenza attacked him, and at midnight Aug. 27–28 1919 he succumbed to heart failure resulting from it.

To his country Botha's death was an irreparable loss. He had attained an influence there, unprecedented even when the disposition of the Dutch South African to give his heart to trusted leaders is taken into account. He had won the devotion of the English-speaking people of the country as no other leader of Dutch birth had been able to win it. The native population believed in him and trusted him. Simple, modest, without personal ambition, he had yet the greatest gift in a national leader, personality. His kindliness was transparent, his temperament always inclined to compromise, his mind naturally impartial. In small things he inclined too often to give way. But in the big things his discernment of principle was unerring, his resolution adamant. Greatness was his by right of nature, a greatness recognized and acclaimed in his last years by the world no less than by his own countrymen. (B. K. L.)