Princess Alice and Jan Smuts

Princess Alice, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa, not only featured in the early life of Pinelands with roads named after them in Pinelands but both enjoyed  mountain climbing.   This is illustrated by a story given when they visited Bains Kloof.  While the group they were with travelled to the top by car, Princess Alice and Jan Smuts left the group and decided to climb to the top.

Princess Alice arrived in Cape Town in 1923 when her husband, Earl of Athlone, was appointed as the Governor-General whose job was to represent the King. The appointment was for five years. Due to their immense popularity in South Africa the then Prime Minister, republican Barry Hertzog, persuaded them to stay a further two years. According to Theo Aaronson she was “elegant, charming, friendly, vivacious, and spirited yet professional”. While in South Africa, Princess Alice learnt Afrikaans and was able to give speeches in Afrikaans.

Princess Alice was an accomplished horse rider and frequently visited Police Camp on the Oval to borrow a horse to ride through the Uitvlugt Forest in an area now bearing the road names of Alices Ride and Princess Path. Princess Alice opened the Brown and Annie Lawrence Home in Broadwalk and was the honoured guest at Pinelands functions until their term ended in 1931. The couple gave the name Athlone to the suburb near Pinelands formerly called West London.

At age 89, she renewed her love of South Africa and visited Pinelands on several occasions. She last visited Pinelands in 1974 at age 91. At 97 Princess Alice died quietly in her sleep in London. From 1979 to her death in 1981, Princess Alice was the oldest living member of the British royal family.

Field Marshall Jan Smuts was a practicing attorney in Pretoria before serving as an officer in a Boer Commando Unit during the Boer War and was involved in the Treaty of Vereeniging. Later he had a key role in the creation of the Union of South Africa and served as a cabinet minister in the first Union Government. He was Prime Minister from 1919 to 1924 and again in 1939 to 1948. Internationally he was appointed to the British War Cabinet in 1917. After the war he was involved in the creation of the League of Nations, United Nations and Commonwealth of Nations. During WW2 he again joined the War Cabinet, resulting in him being the only person as an individual to have signed the peace treaties after both World Wars.  

In 1921 Richard Stuttaford, joined Smut’s South African Party from the Unionists Party and Stuttaford successfully stood for parliament in 1924 under Jan Smuts’ leadership. In 1922   Stuttaford was invited to lay the foundation stone for Pinelands when the first 24 residential properties became occupied. The Foundation stone was eventually laid by Smuts in the following year at Central Square. He continued to take a personal interest in Pinelands. Smuts was a statesman, military leader, and philosopher. Besides his important contributions to philosophy, he was an authority on the different types of grasses in the South African veld.

Jan Smut’s wife, Sybella (Isie) Smuts, was also actively involved  in Pinelands. She opened the 3-day Old World Country Fayre in 1940 which took place on the Oval to raise funds for the South African National Mayors Fund. Among the other duties Isie Smuts conducted in Pinelands was the opening of the Girl Guide Hall on Central Square in 1940. In 1945 Isie Smuts sent a handwritten supporting letter to the organisers of the Country Fayre to take place that year. In her letter of support she writes “Truly they [Residents of Pinelands] have reason to be proud of the village and their success of creating a garden city not only in name but in every deed. Since my visits there I have taken a greater interest in Pinelands”. She signed the letter as “Isie K Smuts”. Isie Smuts was described as “intellectually gifted, somewhat eccentric, genuine, artistic and a thorough person”. Although she was an unpretentious family-oriented woman she was a successful public figure who blossomed in her old age.

Jan Smuts unveiling the Pinelands Foundation stone