By Deneys Reitz
Geen Uitspan is a fascinating account of life in South Africa from the early 1920s until the early 1940s, when the author was Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa. Many are the stories told by the author, both those in which he played a part and those which came to his attention and which he tells with relish.
Deneys Reitz played an important role in the creation of the Kruger National Park, although his party had been voted out of office by the time it was formally established. It says much about Reitz that, despite the fact that he was an outspoken and forceful opponent of the Nationalist Party, his relationships with political opponents transcended politics. Thus he was appointed as one of the founding trustees of the Kruger National Park despite being an opposition Member of Parliament. Geen Uitspan gives fascinating insight into the early development of the Kruger National Park.
Deneys Reitz learned to cherish wild life, and his involvement with wild life and various game reserves he helped establish while in office is a theme that runs throughout the book. He gave up a safe parliamentary seat in Port Elizabeth in order to stand in a marginal seat in what he calls ‘the low country’ – that had the whole of the Kruger Park within its constituency. Against the odds, he won.
An intensely interesting episode in the book is the fall of Hertzog as leader of a coalition government over the issue of South Africa’s stand in the Second World War. By a strange quirk of fate, Parliament was recalled from recess for a few days, for a purely technical reason, and it so happened that war was declared just then. Hertzog’s hand was thus forced, the coalition split, and the House of Assembly voted in favour of Smuts’s proposal to join the Allies in the war effort, thereby defeating a shocked Hertzog. As a Cabinet Minister in the coalition government, Deneys Reitz had a front row seat in all of this – and he tells the story as no one else could.
Geen Uitspan is sound evidence of what Smuts said after Reitz’s death in 1944: ‘His loss is a national one and will be mourned all over this country which he knew and loved as no other’.