General Jan C. Smuts (1870 – 1950) was a prominent South African statesman, military leader, philosopher, conservationist and mountaineer who had an abiding passion for Table Mountain. Below is an extract from his speech at the unveiling of the Mountain Club of South Africa’s War Memorial at Maclear’s Beacon (highest point on Table Mountain) in 1923. The memorial was erected in tribute to Club members who had died in World War 1.
“To them the true church where they worshipped was Table Mountain. Table Mountain was their cathedral where they heard a subtler music and saw wider visions and were inspired by a loftier spirit. Here in life they breathed the great air; here in death their memory will fill the upper spaces. And it is fitting that in this cathedral of Table Mountain the lasting memorial of their great sacrifice should be placed. Not down there in the glowing and rich plains, but up here in the bleak and cold mountaintops. As Browning put it: Here, here’s their place; Where meteors shoot; Clouds form; Lightnings are loosened; Stars come and go.”
General Smuts hiked up Table Mountain (via Skeleton Gorge) aged 80 to give the keynote address of the Mountain Club’s annual memorial service. The plaque contains the famous eulogy from Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser:
“His life was gentle, and the Elements so mixt in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, This was a man.”
Profound stuff. It’s only when you hike up Table Mountain that you begin to speak of it in reverential terms. Even after thousands of hikes and climbs on Table Mountain, I am still in awe each time I set foot on the mountain. I do not tire of the views, the rocks or the vegetation; each time on the mountain is unique, often in an indefinable way.