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Smuts House Museum, Pretoria

smuts house museum pretoriaHome to General Jan Smuts for over 40 years, Doornkloof in Irene, southeast of Pretoria, is a unique museum that reveals much about the life and the spirit of this great statesman. Soldier, scholar, statesman and philosopher, General Jan Christiaan Smuts was one of South Africa's most remarkable leaders, an enigmatic and multifaceted person who was never fully understood by his countrymen. But despite his fame and many talents, Smuts was at heart a simple man who yearned for peace and simplicity.

It was at Doornkloof, a modest wood-and-iron farmhouse in the veld outside the village of Irene, that he found the tranquillity he craved; a place where, surrounded by his many children and grandchildren, he could indulge his passionate interest in botany. Doornkloof, now called Smuts House Museum, has been preserved for future generations as a living memorial to the man known to everyone as 'Oubaas', housing many relics and mementos that offer fascinating insights into his extraordinary career.

Rooms have been restored so as to reflect the Smuts era. There is a mix of styles of furniture, including a few family heirlooms, which have been used to reflect the simple life style of Jan and Isie Smuts. In 1995 the library was returned to the Big House at Doornkloof, where the room has been restored to its original appearance and the books placed on the shelves in their original order.

His herbarium was also returned. It is housed at the museum but is not open to the public. The living rooms, the main bedroom now the War Room, Ouma’s bedroom, pantry and kitchen have been recreated as historical rooms, as has the  “best bedroom" and the "Donker Kamer"(Dark bedroom). Believe it or not, but the two tusks on display on the table in the entrance hall, is a dinner gong which was presented to Genl. Smuts by his  troops in German East Africa, when he was called to Britain to become a member of the British War Cabinet in 1917.

Smuts House must be one of the few houses of its time that had a telephone in the bathroom. This came about when the passageway was converted into an indoor bathroom. The indoor toilet was also installed at that time. The kitchen has an interesting display of the typical kitchen utensils found in a farm house kitchen from c. 1923-1945. The flour sieve dating from the Second World War, period when it was prohibited to sift flour, was found in just about every kitchen in the country. Note the drying rack suspended from the ceiling and tied to a weight with the typical drying cloths converted from hemmed flour bags, on display.  

The kitchen and pantry were added on c. 1923 and is a bricks and mortar construction. The display case in Ouma's Passage gives a clear picture of the Gifts and Comforts Fund of the Second World War period.  Also have a look at the large photo of Ouma wearing her V-for-Victory brooch. 

The Arboretum is a project of the Friends of the General Smuts Foundation.  A variety of indigenous trees and shrubs are being planted to encourage birds and butterflies to the area. When Smuts moved to Doornkloof he planted blue gums and pine trees to assist the mines, and augment his income. The Australian wattles were planted by Ouma Smuts, who liked the yellow flowers. Today these exotic trees are classed as problem plants are slowly being removed and replaced with indigenous trees.  The natural grasslands are slowly recovering and the wild flower display in Spring is worth the walk.   

The popular Irene Village Market takes place on the shady grounds of Smuts House on the first and last Saturday of every month, and the setting alone is enough to warrant a visit to this particularly pretty part of the highveld. The house oozes appeal and one can easily feel that it was once a loved and well lived-in family home – Smuts went on to have seven children, and it was constantly busy with guests, and later grandchildren. The drawing room, where formal visitors to Doornkloof would have been ushered, is the only room that conformed to conventional European ideas. Smuts chose this home over the Libertas mansion in Pretoria, now known as Mahlamba-Ndlopfu, as he wanted his family around him and loved to live, for all practical purposes, in the middle of nowhere. And yet Smuts, the statesman, made time for his responsibilities and he was a renowned naturalist and philosopher.


 

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