Louis Botha’s War by Adam Cruise, published by Zebra Press, 2015.
There are statues of him in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, he was the first prime minister of South Africa and Winston Churchill held him in high honour and regarded him as a good friend. Yet Louis Botha is largely forgotten in South African history, and the reason for that is mostly to do with the fact that Afrikaners regarded him as a traitor to their cause.
Adam Cruise did some serious digging when he decided to unearth information on both Botha and his campaign in German South West Africa, which took place 100 years back. Out-of-print books, tidbits on the internet, official military accounts and his own off the beaten track travels in Namibia all helped shed light on both the Boer War general and his largely forgotten war.
Cruise sketches the background, starting with Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in August 1914. The young Union of South Africa, only four years old, was comprised of many antagonistic English and Afrikaans whites, the latter smarting from defeat by the British in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902 and not in the mood for reconciliation. The country was also rife with racial tension thanks to the Natives Land Act of 1913 which resulted in the formation of the SA Native National Congress. The defence force was weak and inexperienced and prime minister Botha did not appreciate Britain’s rapid request, two days after declaring war, that South Africa should please act against German South –West Africa.
But he did, and this book relates the story of not only the first war fought by a united South Africa, but also World War 1’s first successful campaign. Botha led his men and their horses over endless miles of barren desert, and at one stage even his wife joined the forces on the battle field. In the air, a couple of rickety German aeroplanes were flown by early aviators, but in vain, as the Germans surrendered in Jul y 1915 to Botha and his party under the shade of a wild syringa tree at Kilo 500.
Photographs, old and new, add to the readable text and the index is detailed and well-compiled. While the title is of particular interest to history buffs and those who revel in military history, readers who know Namibia will also enjoy this tale of remote battle sites while many more will find the story of a man described by Churchill as the greatest general he had ever known, a fascinating one.