Deneys Reitz

Deneys Reitz. He was born at Bloemfontein on April 2, 1882 and died in London, England on October 19, 1944. He was the third member of his family in three generations to enter public life. He was given the family name of his paternal grandmother, Cornelia Magdalena Deneys. He was educated in Bloemfontein.
At the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War he joined the Boer forces at the age of seventeen, saw service at Ladysmith, and accompanied Gen Jan C. Smutson his famous raid in the Cape Colony (1901-1902), of which Deneys wrote a stirring account in his autobiography, Commando.
Refusing to take the oath of allegiance at the end of the war, he endured three harsh years abroad, mainly in Madagascar, but was persuaded by Mrs J.C. Smuts to return in 1905, and in 1908 established himself as an attorney in Heilbron. During the First World War he served on Smuts's staff in German South-West Africa, and in German East Africa commanding the Fourth South African Horse.
Going overseas in 1917, he was twice severely wounded on the western front, was mentioned in dispatches, and ended the war a Colonel commanding a battalion of the First Royal Scots Fusiliers. He returned to South Africa in 1919.
Entering politics as a member of the South African party, he represented Bloemfontein South in 1920, and a few months later Port Elizabeth, having been ousted in a general election by Dr. Colin Steyn. Subsequently, in 1929, he represented Barberton. Though he lacked the benefits of an advanced education, Deneys through experience and sheer force of personality, proved a good debater. Appointed to the Smuts cabinet, he , as Minister of Lands, introduced legislation relating to several important projects, notably the establishment of the Kruger National Park. Out of office from 1924 to 1933 Deneys joined a firm of Johannesburg solicitors and, both personally and on business, travelled widely, visiting the Rhodesias, the Belgian Congo, and more especially, the Kaokoveld in South-West Africa. It was then in 1929, that he wrote Commando, the first of his literary successes.
Back in office in 1933, he was appointed Minister of Lands as a member of Gen J.B.M. Hertzog's coalition cabinet, subsequently becoming Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in 1935 and Minister of Mines in 1938. From 1939 to 1943 he was Minister of Native Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister in Smuts's war-time cabinet.
In 1943 he filled the politically sensitive post of High Commissioner in London with great success-as his uncle, W.P. Schreiner, had done in World War I, and like him, he died there in office in 1944. In South Africa he was regarded as an enterprising cabinet minister and in England as an admirable representative of the Union of South Africa.
Deneys wrote three stirring autobiographical books, Commando (1929), Trekking On (1933) and No Outspan (1943), which brought him, his family and his country to the favourable attention of the English-speaking world.
The first two narratives end with the First World War, the third, a lively mixture of history, politics, travel and sports, covers the next twenty five years. All three were marked successes, the first two being regarded as classics of adventure.
He married in February 1919 Leila Agnes Buissine Wright. She was born in Cape Town on December 13, 1887 and died in Cape Town on December 29, 1959. She was the daughter of Claude Wright, a Wynburg doctor, and the first woman elected to the South African House of Assembly.
She matriculated in the first class at the High School for Girls (now Rustenburg High School for Girls), Rondebosch in 1905 before attending the South African College, Cape Town, where in 1909 she gained a B.A. degree with honours in history from the University of the Cape of Good Hope. From 1910 to 1913 she attended Newnham College, Cambridge, England on a Cape University scholarship.
After successfully completing the tripos in history she returned to South Africa and lectured in that subject at the University of Cape Town until her marriage in 1919 to Colonel Deneys Reitz. Early in her married life she became associated with the South African Party, first while supporting her husband in his political career, and later in her own right as an executive member of the woman's section of the Party, the Witwatersrand Executive, and the head committee for the country. In company with others like Bertha Solomon she helped to secure the vote for women in 1930 and in 1933 was elected to the House of Assembly as South African Party representative for the Parktown constituency. She was returned unopposed and held the seat until 1943. Both within and outside the House of Assembly she was a staunch advocate of women's rights.
She supported legislation designed to make divorce easier for women, introducing as a private member the Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction Bill, and served on the Legal Disabilities of Women Commission, originally appointed in 1939 but deferred, owing to the Second World War (1939-1945), to 1946. In 1948 this commission submitted a report, which led to the Matrimonial Affairs Act of 1953.
She advocated the advantages of a university education for women, the benefits to be derived from conscripting women in peacetime to undertake welfare work, and the right of married women to secure permanent posts in public service. Her sharp intellect, persuasive oratory and deep sympathy with the underprivileged made her an enthusiastic and successful social reformer and protagonist of women's rights. Her other parliamentary interests were problems of juvenile delinquency and the hardships of the Poor Whites.
She played a prominent part in the passage of the Children's Act (No. 31 of 1937). In the broader political sense she supported the union of the J.B.M. Hertzog and J.C. Smuts parties to form the United South African National Party in 1934, the fusion of the British and Afrikaaner sections of the community, and the retention of British nationality. She envisaged that progress for the Black people would come through Black councils.
In 1943 she gave up her parliamentary career to accompany her husband to London on his appointment as High Commissioner for the Union of South Africa. During the Second World War she was an ardent worker, helping to found and becoming President of the Women's Aviation Association later the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She was a good tennis player, having captained the Cambridge women's lawn tennis team against Oxford. Other interests were gardening, music, old furniture, and china. Her later years were spent in retirement in Cape Town.

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