Jan Smuts and the stoep

Sir Douglas Busk told me that when he was a young diplomat in S. Africa he had to deliver by hand top secret documents from Churchill to Smuts on the latter’s farm because Smuts did not trust some of his Cabinet, who were pro-German.

Busk said that he was warned not to put even a foot on the stoep surrounding the house of the farmstead, as by the laws of Boer hospitality Lady Smuts would be bound to invite him for a meal. She would be absolutely charming to the British guest, but it would be a great torture to her. So to spare her this, Busk always kept away from the edge of the stoep that went round the house. Then Lady Smuts could just greet him as he waited for the reply; she did not have to invite him in, and it was understood that if he did not put his foot on to any part of the house, he did not wish to be invited in. These unspoken understandings were an important part of traditional Boer customs.

Smuts, one of the cleverest men in Europe, as Dr. Shastri called him, wrote most of the United Nations Charter. He inaugurated the idea of Holism in his book Holism and Evolution in 1926. The idea is now becoming very fashionable. He even foresaw (he was one of the best botanists in S. Africa if not the best) the importance of the Slime Mould in the theory of evolution.


‘stoep’ = veranda (Afrikaans from Dutch)

© Trevor Pryce Leggett

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