It was a very important day in South Africa. The Second Boer War — otherwise known as the South African War, waged by the British Empire against the Boer descendents of Dutch South African settlers — had occurred between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902, resulting in the deaths of many Boers and other South Africans. Eight years later, in 1910, the country became part of the British Empire. May 31st became known as "Union Day," and was declared a public holiday. South Africa would fight on the side of Britain in World War I, and Jan Christiaan Smuts of South Africa would be among the architects of the "League Of Nations," an association of countries established in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles to promote international cooperation and achieve international peace and security! When it was replaced by the United Nations in 1945, it was Smuts who drafted the Covenant of the United Nations, which is considered to have been his major achievement; but it should also not be forgotten that as a Field Marshal of the Allied Forces during World War II, he enjoyed the respect and friendship of both General Eisenhower and the King of England. Until recently changed, the main airport in South Africa bore his name.
In 1994 that changed, and although the bombing of Park Station in Johannesburg in the 1960s had become my personal 9/11, it was the thirty-first day of May that remained a red-letter day for me, and not the one associated with what I regarded as terrorism.
By the time my sister was born, South Africa—like Canada, India and Australia — was a proud dominion of the British Empire. Our home language was English, though we could also speak Afrikaans, and whereas my sister and my father could communicate in Latin (I envied them), I seem to think that my first language was actually Sesuto (SeSotho); particularly as I loved my Basotho nanny more than anyone else on Earth, and because my father was involved in public life, I saw more of Lizzie than I did of my parents. I also recall being the only white child in a black farm school at one stage.