Sheep, soil and stability

Nasson, Bill (2010-04)

The original publication is availabel at


In concluding Dinosaurs, diamonds and democracy (2009), his pocket history of South Africa, the economist, Francis Wilson, reports a reputed prime ministerial observation by Jan Smuts. During the 1930s, he considered the haemorrhaging of the country’s topsoil to be the country’s gravest issue, far more important than its political problems. There, unlike as with his cranky scientific and philosophical theories, such as holism, Smuts may well have been on to something. Wilson stresses the extent to which environmental degradation is sure to dominate South Africa’s future. In The rise of conservation in South Africa, William Beinart underlines its importance in the past. Recently re-issued in paperback, this major study by the Rhodes Professor of Race Relations at Oxford University is more about grass and grazing than ethnicity. Still, in that respect, it may owe something to Smuts who, incidentally, gets three listings in the index.

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