As I enter the house in Doornkloof, it is hard to imagine that a pre-eminent Statesman had lived here. All of 40 odd years. Nothing fancy. A house made of wood and steel, strikingly unpretentious. And must have been pretty hot in Summer and pretty cold in Winter.
Only the big black Cadilac and the famous faces in faded photos on the walls, hint at the occupants.
The Smuts family lived in the Big House, as they affectionately called it, from 1909 until Ouma Isie died here in 1954.
My visit did not focus on the famous guests, like the British Royal family or the exiled Greek Crown Prince Paul and his wife Princess Federica. I did marvel however at the library, restored to its original appearance, and the 4 000 books placed on the shelves in their original order.
Decades before the advent of our instant means of communication, the telephone in the bathroom, allowed General J.C. Smuts to be in touch with affairs of State, whilst brushing his teeth. More by default than design actually, as building alterations left it like that.
Hidden in a gloomy corner of the lounge, hangs a framed hand written note from Queen Mary dated 25 February 1952. In it she thanks the wife of Jan Smuts, Ouma Isie , as she was affectionately known, for her kind thoughts at having suffered …”a great loss and losing such a devoted son.” This after the death of King George VI, on February the 6th 1952.
In one of the back rooms amongst Boer War and rebellion memorabilia, a small horse shoe pin catches my eye. It attests to the lifelong friendship between General Smuts and Emily Hobhouse , who gave him the pin.
In the same room, I stand transfixed,staring at the 2 red ribbons mounted next to a copy of the Red Oath, as they bear witness to very turbulent times in South African history. The “Rooi Lussies” were worn by servicemen on their uniforms during the Second World War.
And Ouma Isie leaves the last impression, as hers is the room, from which I leave the house…a small radio hanging from the wall next to her pillow, and a ginger cat vigilant on her bed.
I leave in pensive mood…the somewhat dim lighting in the Smuts House Museum contributing to my melancholy,… glimpses of a bygone era…