Jan Smuts

From New World Encyclopedia

Jan Christiaan Smuts
Jan Smuts

Prime Minister of South Africa
In office
September 5, 1939 – June 4, 1948
Preceded by James Barry Munnik Hertzog
Succeeded by Daniel François Malan
In office
September 3, 1919 – June 30, 1924
Preceded by Louis Botha
Succeeded by James Barry Munnik Hertzog

Born May 24 1870(1870-05-24)
Bovenplaats, near Malmesbury, Cape Colony (now South Africa)
Died September 11, 1950 (aged 80)
Doornkloof, Irene, near Pretoria, South Africa
Political party South African Party
United Party
Spouse Isie Krige
Religion Calvinist

Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, OM, CH, PC, ED, KC, FRS (May 24, 1870 – September 11, 1950) was a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader, and philosopher. In addition to various cabinet appointments, he served as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948. He served in the First World War and as a British Field Marshal in the Second World War. Smuts led commandos in the Second Boer War for the Transvaal. During the First World War, he led the armies of South Africa against Germany, capturing German South-West Africa and commanding the British Army in East Africa. From 1917 to 1919, he was also one of five members of the British War Cabinet, helping to create the Royal Air Force. He became a Field Marshal in the British Army in 1941, and served in the Imperial War Cabinet under Winston Churchill. He was the only person to sign the peace treaties ending both the First and Second World Wars. His advice not to inflict heavy reparations on Germany was prudent but did not carry the day.

Smuts was instrumental in creating both the League of Nations and the United Nations, writing the preamble to its charter. He was the only person to sign the charters of both the League of Nations and the UN. He sought to redefine the relationship between the United Kingdom and her colonies, by establishing the British Commonwealth, as it was known at the time. However, in 1946 the Smuts government was strongly condemned by a large majority in the United Nations Assembly for its discriminatory racial policies. For most of his life, Smuts supported racial segregation and separate development but from 1948 advocated liberalization of South Africa's race law, although very soon the new National Party government would formalize apartheid. He was a warrior and a peace-maker. He wanted harmony not hostility between people. He truly believed that humanity could relegate war to history and resolve differences without recourse to violence. As a soldier, he had first-hand experience of the horror of war.

Early life

He was born on May 24, 1870, at the family farm, Bovenplaats, near Malmesbury, in the Cape Colony. His family were prosperous, traditional Afrikaner farmers, long established and highly respected.

Jan was quiet and delicate as a child, strongly inclined towards solitary pursuits. During his childhood, he often went out alone, exploring the surrounding countryside; this awakened a passion for nature, which he retained throughout his life.

As the second son of the family, rural custom dictated that he would remain working on the farm; a full formal education was typically the preserve of the first son. However, in 1882, when Jan was 12, his elder brother died, and Jan was sent to school in his brother's place. Jan attended the school in nearby Riebeek West. He made excellent progress here, despite his late start, and caught up with his contemporaries within four years. He moved on to Victoria College, Stellenbosch, in 1886, at the age of 16.

At Stellenbosch, he learned High Dutch, German, and Ancient Greek, and immersed himself further in literature, the classics, and Bible studies. His deeply traditional upbringing and serious outlook led to social isolation from his peers. However, he made outstanding academic progress, graduating in 1891 with double First-class honors in Literature and Science. During his last years at Stellenbosch, Smuts began to cast off some of his shyness and reserve, and it was at this time that he met Isie Krige, whom he was later to marry.

On graduation from Victoria College, Smuts won the Ebden scholarship for overseas study. He decided travel to the United Kingdom to read law at Christ's College, Cambridge. Smuts found it difficult to settle at Cambridge; he felt homesick and isolated by his age and different upbringing from the English undergraduates. Worries over money also contributed to his unhappiness, as his scholarship was insufficient to cover his university expenses. He confided these worries to a friend from Victoria College, Professor J.I. Marais. In reply, Professor Marais enclosed a check for a substantial sum, by way of loan, urging Smuts not to hesitate to approach him should he ever find himself in need.[1] Thanks to Marais, Smuts’ financial standing was secure. He gradually began to enter more into the social aspects of the university, although he retained his single-minded dedication to his studies.

During his time in Cambridge, he found time to study a diverse number of subjects in addition to law; he wrote a book, Walt Whitman: A Study in the Evolution of Personality, although it was unpublished. The thoughts behind this book laid the foundation for Smuts' later wide-ranging philosophy of holism.

Smuts graduated in 1893 with a double First. Over the previous two years, he had been the recipient of numerous academic prizes and accolades, including the coveted George Long prize in Roman Law and Jurisprudence.[2] One of his tutors, Professor Maitland, described Smuts as the most brilliant student he had ever met.[3]Lord Todd, the Master of Christ's College said in 1970 that "in 500 years of the College's history, of all its members, past and present, three had been truly outstanding: John Milton, Charles Darwin and Jan Smuts"[4]

In 1894, Smuts passed the examinations for the Inns of Court, entering the Middle Temple. His old college, Christ's College, offered him a fellowship in Law. However, Smuts turned his back on a potentially distinguished legal future.[5] By June 1895, he had returned to the Cape Colony, determined that he should make his future there.

Climbing the ladder

Smuts began to practice law in Cape Town, but his abrasive nature made him few friends. Finding little financial success in the law, he began to divert more and more of his time to politics and journalism, writing for the Cape Times. Smuts was intrigued by the prospect of a united South Africa, and joined the Afrikaner Bond. By good fortune, Smuts’ father knew the leader of the group, Jan Hofmeyr; Hofmeyr recommended Jan to Cecil Rhodes, who owned the De Beers mining company. In 1895, Rhodes hired Smuts as his personal legal advisor, a role that found the youngster much criticized by the hostile Afrikaans press. Regardless, Smuts trusted Rhodes implicitly.

When Rhodes launched the Jameson Raid, in the summer of 1895-1896, Smuts was outraged. Betrayed by his employer, friend, and political ally, he resigned from De Beers, and disappeared from public life. Seeing no future for him in Cape Town, he decided to move to Johannesburg in August 1896. However, he was disgusted by what appeared to be a gin-soaked mining camp, and his new law practice could attract little business in such an environment. Smuts sought refuge in the capital of the South African Republic, Pretoria.

Through 1896, Smuts’ politics were turned on their head. He was transformed from being Rhodes’ most ardent supporter to being the most fervent opponent of British expansion. Through late 1896 and 1897, Smuts toured South Africa, furiously condemning the United Kingdom, Rhodes, and anyone opposed to the Transvaal President, the autocratic Paul Kruger.

In April 1897, he married Isie Krige of Cape Town. Professor J.I. Marais, Smuts’ benefactor at Cambridge, presided over the ceremony. Twins were born to the pair in March 1898, but unfortunately survived only a few weeks.

Kruger was opposed by many liberal elements in South Africa, and, when, in June 1898, Kruger fired the Transvaal Chief Justice, his long-term political rival John Gilbert Kotzé, most lawyers were up in arms. Recognizing the opportunity, Smuts wrote a legal thesis in support of Kruger, who rewarded Smuts as State Attorney. In this capacity, he tore into the establishment, firing those he deemed to be illiberal, old-fashioned, or corrupt. His efforts to rejuvenate the republic polarized Afrikaners.

After the Jameson Raid, relations between the British and the Afrikaners had deteriorated steadily. By 1898, war seemed imminent. Orange Free State President Martinus Steyn called for a peace conference at Bloemfontein to settle each side’s grievances. With an intimate knowledge of the British, Smuts took control of the Transvaal delegation. Sir Alfred Milner, head of the British delegation, took exception to his dominance, and conflict between the two led to the collapse of the conference, consigning South Africa to war.

The Boer War

On October 11, 1899, the Boer republics invaded the British South African colonies, beginning the Second Boer War. In the early stages of the conflict, Smuts served as Kruger’s eyes and ears, handling propaganda, logistics, communication with generals and diplomats, and anything else that was required.

In the second phase of the war, Smuts served under Koos de la Rey, who commanded 500 commandos in the Western Transvaal. Smuts excelled at hit-and-run warfare, and the unit evaded and harassed a British army forty times its size. President Kruger and the deputation in Europe thought that there was good hope for their cause in the Cape Colony. They decided to send General de la Rey there to assume supreme command, but then decided to act more cautiously when they realized that General de la Rey could hardly be spared in the Western Transvaal.

Consequently, Smuts left with a small force of 300 men while another 100 men followed him. By this point in the war, the British scorched earth policy left little grazing land. One hundred of the cavalry that had joined Smuts were therefore too weak to continue and so Smuts had to leave these men with General Kritzinger. With few exceptions, Smuts met all the commandos in the Cape Colony and found between 1,400–1,500 men under arms, and not the 3,000 men as had been reported. By the time of the peace Conference in May 1902 there were 3,300 men operating in the Cape Colony. Although the people were enthusiastic for a general rising, there was a great shortage of horses (the Boers were an entirely mounted force) as they had been taken by the British. There was an absence of grass and wheat, which meant that he was forced to refuse nine tenths of those who were willing to join. The Boer forces raided supply lines and farms, spread Afrikaner propaganda, and intimidated those that opposed them, but they never succeeded in causing a revolt against the government. This raid was to prove one of the most influential military adventures of the twentieth century and had a direct influence on the creation of the British Commandos and all the other special forces which followed. With these practical developments came the development of the military doctrines of deep penetration raids, asymmetric warfare and, more recently, elements of fourth generation warfare.

To end the conflict, Smuts sought to take a major target, the copper-mining town of Okiep. With a full assault impossible, Smuts packed a train full of explosives, and tried to push it downhill, into the town, where it would bring the enemy garrison to its knees. Although this failed, Smuts had proven his point: that he would stop at nothing to defeat his enemies. Combined with their failure to pacify the Transvaal, Smuts' success left the United Kingdom with no choice but to offer a ceasefire and a peace conference, to be held at Vereeniging.

Before the conference, Smuts met Lord Kitchener at Kroonstad station, where they discussed the proposed terms of surrender. Smuts then took a leading role in the negotiations between the representatives from all of the commandos from the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (May 15-31, 1902). Although he admitted that, from a purely military perspective, the war could continue, he stressed the importance of not sacrificing the Afrikaner people for that independence. He was very conscious that 'more than 20,000 women and children have already died in the Concentration Camps of the enemy'. He felt it would have been a crime to continue the war without the assurance of help from elsewhere and declared, "Comrades, we decided to stand to the bitter end. Let us now, like men, admit that that end has come for us, come in a more bitter shape than we ever thought." His opinions were representative of the conference, which then voted by 54 to 6 in favor of peace. Representatives of the Governments met Lord Kitchener and at five minutes past eleven on May 31, 1902, Acting President Burger signed the Peace Treaty, followed by the members of his Government, Acting President de Wet and the members of his Government.

A British Transvaal

For all Smuts' exploits as a general and a negotiator, nothing could mask the fact that the Afrikaners had been defeated and humiliated. Lord Milner had full control of all South African affairs, and established an Anglophone elite, known as Milner's Kindergarten. As an Afrikaner, Smuts was excluded. Defeated but not deterred, in January 1905, he decided to join with the other former Transvaal generals to form a political party, Het Volk (People's Party), to fight for the Afrikaner cause. Louis Botha (September 27, 1862 – August 27, 1919) was elected leader, and Smuts his deputy.

When his term of office expired, Milner was replaced as High Commissioner by the more conciliatory Lord Selborne. Smuts saw an opportunity and pounced, urging Botha to persuade the Liberals to support Het Volk’s cause. When the Conservative government under Arthur Balfour collapsed, in December 1905, the decision paid off. Smuts joined Botha in London, and sought to negotiate full self-government for the Transvaal within British South Africa. Using the thorny political issue of Asian laborers ('coolies'), the South Africans convinced Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and, with him, the cabinet and Parliament.

Through 1906, Smuts worked on the new constitution for the Transvaal, and, in December 1906, elections were held for the Transvaal parliament. Despite being shy and reserved, unlike the showman Botha, Smuts won a comfortable victory in the Wonderboom constituency, near Pretoria. His victory was one of many, with Het Volk winning in a landslide and Botha forming the government. To reward his loyalty and efforts, Smuts was given two key cabinet positions: Colonial Secretary and Education Secretary.

Smuts proved to be an effective leader, if unpopular. As Education Secretary, he had fights with the Dutch Reformed Church, of which he had once been a dedicated member, who demanded Calvinist teachings in schools. As Colonial Secretary, he was forced to confront Asian workers, the very people whose plight he had exploited in London, led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Despite Smuts’ unpopularity, South Africa's economy continued to boom, and Smuts cemented his place as the Afrikaners’ brightest star.

During the years of Transvaal self-government, no-one could avoid the predominant political debate of the day: South African unification. Ever since the British victory in the war, it was an inevitability, but it remained up to the South Africans to decide what sort of country would be formed, and how it would be formed. Smuts favored a unitary state, with power centralized in Pretoria, with English as the only official language, and with a more inclusive electorate. To impress upon his compatriots his vision, he called a constitutional convention in Durban, in October 1908.

There, Smuts was up against a hard-talking Orange delegation, who refused every one of Smuts' demands. Smuts had successfully predicted this opposition, and their objectives, and tailored his own ambitions appropriately. He allowed compromise on the location of the capital, on the official language, and on suffrage, but he refused to budge on the fundamental structure of government. As the convention drew into autumn, the Orange leaders began to see a final compromise as necessary to secure the concessions that Smuts had already made. They agreed to Smuts’ draft South African constitution, which was duly ratified by the South African colonies. Smuts and Botha took the constitution to London, where it was passed by Parliament, and signed into law by Edward VII in December 1909. Smuts' dream had been realized.

The Old Boers

The Union of South Africa was born, and the Afrikaners held the key to political power, for they formed the largest part of the electorate. Although Botha was appointed Prime Minister of the new country, Smuts was given three key ministries: those for the Interior, the Mines, and Defense. Undeniably, Smuts was the second most powerful man in South Africa. To solidify their dominance of South African politics, the Afrikaners united to form the South African Party, a new pan-South African Afrikaner party.

The harmony and cooperation soon ended. Smuts was criticized for his over-arching powers, and was reshuffled, losing his positions in charge of Defense and the Mines, but gaining control of the Treasury. This was still too much for Smuts' opponents, who decried his possession of both Defense and Finance: two departments that were usually at loggerheads. At the 1913 South African Party conference, the Old Boers, of Hertzog, Steyn, and De Wet, called for Botha and Smuts to step down. The two narrowly survived a conference vote, and the troublesome triumvirate stormed out, leaving the party for good.

With the schism in internal party politics came a new threat to the mines that brought South Africa its wealth. A small-scale miners' dispute flared into a full-blown strike, and rioting broke out in Johannesburg after Smuts intervened heavy-handedly. After police shot dead 21 strikers, Smuts and Botha headed unaccompanied to Johannesburg to personally resolve the situation. They did, facing down threats to their own lives, and successfully negotiating a cease-fire.

The cease-fire did not hold, and, in 1914, a railway strike turned into a general strike, and threats of a revolution caused Smuts to declare martial law. Smuts acted ruthlessly, deporting union leaders without trial and using Parliament to retrospectively absolve him or the government of any blame. This was too much for the Old Boers, who set up their own party, the National Party, to fight the all-powerful Botha-Smuts partnership. The Old Boers urged Smuts' opponents to arm themselves, and civil war seemed inevitable before the end of 1914. In October 1914, when the Government was faced with open rebellion by Lt Col Manie Maritz and others in the Maritz Rebellion, Government forces under the command of Botha and Smuts were able to put down the rebellion without it ever seriously threatening to ignite into a Third Boer War.

Soldier, statesman, and scholar

During the First World War, Smuts (right) and Botha were key members of the British Army.

During the First World War, Smuts formed the South African Defense Force. His first task was to suppress the Maritz Rebellion, which was accomplished by November of 1914. Next he and Louis Botha led the South African army into German South West Africa and conquered it (see the South-West Africa Campaign for details). In 1916 General Smuts was put in charge of the conquest of German East Africa. While the East African Campaign went fairly well, the German forces were not destroyed. However, early in 1917 he was invited to join the Imperial War Cabinet by David Lloyd George, so he left the area and went to London. In 1918, Smuts helped to create a Royal Air Force, independent of the army.

Smuts and Botha were key negotiators at the Paris Peace Conference. Both were in favor of reconciliation with Germany and limited reparations. Smuts advocated a powerful League of Nations, which failed to materialize. The Treaty of Versailles gave South Africa a Class C mandate over German South West Africa (which later became Namibia), which was occupied from 1919 until withdrawal in 1990. At the same time, Australia was given a similar mandate over German New Guinea, which it held until 1975. Both Smuts and the Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes feared the rising power of Japan in the post World War 1 world.

Smuts returned to South African politics after the conference. When Botha died in 1919, Smuts was elected Prime Minister, serving until a shocking defeat in 1924 at the hands of the National Party.

While in England for an Imperial Conference in June 1920, Smuts went to Ireland and met Eamon De Valera to help broker an armistice and peace deal between the warring English and Irish nationalists. Smuts attempted to sell the concept of Ireland receiving Dominion status similar to that of Australia and South Africa.[6]

While in academia, Smuts pioneered the concept of holism, defined as "the tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution" in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution. One biographer ties together his far-reaching political vision with his technical philosophy:

It had very much in common with his philosophy of life as subsequently developed and embodied in his Holism and Evolution. Small units must needs develop into bigger wholes, and they in their turn again must grow into larger and ever-larger structures without cessation. Advancement lay along that path. Thus the unification of the four provinces in the Union of South Africa, the idea of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and, finally, the great whole resulting from the combination of the peoples of the earth in a great league of nations were but a logical progression consistent with his philosophical tenets.[7]

After Albert Einstein studied Holism and Evolutionsoon upon its publication, he wrote that two mental constructs will direct human thinking in the next millennium, his own mental construct of relativity and Smuts' of holism. In the work of Smuts he saw a clear blueprint of much of his own life, work and personality. Einstein also said of Smuts that he was "one of only eleven men in the world" who conceptually understood his Theory of Relativity[8]

As a botanist, Smuts collected plants extensively over southern Africa. He went on several botanical expeditions in the 1920s and 1930s with John Hutchinson, former Botanist in charge of the African section of the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens and taxonomist of note.

Smuts and Segregation

Although at times hailed as a liberal, Smuts is often depicted as a white supremacist who played an important role in establishing and supporting a racially segregated society in South Africa. While he thought it was the duty of whites to deal justly with Africans and raise them up in civilization, they should not be given political power. Giving the right to vote to the black African majority he feared would imply the ultimate destruction of Western civilization in South Africa.

Smuts was for most of his political life a vocal supporter of segregation of the races, and in 1929 he justified the erection of separate institutions for blacks and whites in tones reminiscent of the later practice of apartheid:

The old practice mixed up black with white in the same institutions, and nothing else was possible after the native institutions and traditions had been carelessly or deliberately destroyed. But in the new plan there will be what is called in South Africa "segregation"—separate institutions for the two elements of the population living in their own separate areas. Separate institutions involve territorial segregation of the white and black. If they live mixed together it is not practicable to sort them out under separate institutions of their own. Institutional segregation carries with it territorial segregation.[9]

In general, Smuts' view of Africans was patronizing, he saw them as immature human beings who needed the guidance of whites, an attitude that reflected the common perceptions of the white minority population of South Africa in his lifetime. Of Africans he stated that:

These children of nature have not the inner toughness and persistence of the European, not those social and moral incentives to progress which have built up European civilization in a comparatively short period.[10]

Smuts is often accused of being a politician who extolled the virtues of humanitarianism and liberalism abroad while failing to practice what he preached at home in South Africa. This was most clearly illustrated when India, in 1946, made a formal complaint in the United Nations concerning the legalized racial discrimination against Indians in South Africa. Appearing personally before the United Nations General Assembly, Smuts defended the racial policies of his government by fervently pleading that India's complaint was a matter of domestic jurisdiction. However, the General Assembly condemned South Africa for its racial policies by the requisite two-thirds majority and called upon the Smuts government to bring its treatment of the South African Indians in conformity with the basic principles of the United Nations Charter.

The international criticism of racial discrimination in South Africa led Smuts to modify his rhetoric around segregation. In a bid to make South African racial policies sound more acceptable to Britain he declared already in 1942 that "segregation had failed to solve the Native problem of Africa and that the concept of trusteeship offered the only prospect of happy relations between European and African".[11]

In 1948 he went further away from his previous views on segregation when supporting the recommendations of the Fagan Commission that Africans should be recognized as permanent residents of White South Africa and not only temporary workers that really belonged in the reserves. This was in direct opposition to the policies of the National Party that wished to extend segregation and formalize it into apartheid.

There is however no evidence that Smuts ever supported the idea of equal political rights for blacks and whites. The Fagan Commission did not advocate the establishment of a non-racial democracy in South Africa, but rather wanted to liberalize influx controls of Africans into urban areas in order to facilitate the supply of African labor to the South African industry. It also envisaged a relaxation of the pass laws that had restricted the movement of Africans in general.[12] The commission was at the same time unequivocal about the continuation of white political privilege, it stated that "In South Africa, we the White men, cannot leave and cannot accept the fate of a subject race."

Second World War

After nine years in opposition and academia, Smuts returned as Deputy Prime Minister in a 'grand coalition' government under Barry Hertzog. When Hertzog advocated neutrality towards Nazi Germany in 1939, he was deposed by a party caucus, and Smuts became Prime Minister for the second time. He had served with Winston Churchill in World War I, and had developed a personal and professional rapport. Smuts was invited to the Imperial War Cabinet in 1939 as the most senior South African in favor of war. On 28 May 1941, Smuts was appointed a Field Marshal of the British Army, becoming the first South African to hold that rank.

Smuts' importance to the Imperial war effort was emphasized by a quite audacious plan, proposed as early as 1940, to appoint Smuts as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, should Churchill die or otherwise become incapacitated during the war. This idea was put by Sir John Colville, Churchill's private secretary, to Queen Mary and then to George VI, both of whom warmed to the idea. [13] As Churchill lived for another 25 years, the plan was never put into effect and its constitutionality was never tested. This closeness to the British establishment, to the King, and to Churchill made Smuts very unpopular amongst the Afrikaner, leading to his eventual downfall.

In May 1945, he represented South Africa in San Francisco at the drafting of the United Nations Charter. Just as he did in 1919, Smuts urged the delegates to create a powerful international body to preserve peace; he was determined that, unlike the League of Nations, the United Nations would have teeth. Smuts signed the Paris Peace Treaty, resolving the peace in Europe, thus becoming the only signatory of both the treaty ending the First World War, and that ending the Second.

After the war

His preoccupation with the war had severe political repercussions in South Africa. Smuts' support of the war and his support for the Fagan Commission made him unpopular amongst the Afrikaner and Daniel François Malan's pro-Apartheid stance won the National Party the 1948 general election. Although widely forecast, it is a credit to Smuts' political acumen that he was only narrowly defeated (and, in fact, won the popular vote). Smuts, who had been confident of victory, lost his own seat and retired from politics; four decades of Apartheid followed. He still hoped that the tenuous Nationalist government would fall; it remained in power until 1994.

Smuts’ inauguration as chancellor of Cambridge University shortly after the election restored his morale, but the sudden and unexpected death of his eldest son, Japie, in October 1948 brought him to the depths of despair. In the last two years of his life, now frail and visibly aged, Smuts continued to comment perceptively, and on occasion presciently, on world affairs. Europe and the Commonwealth remained his dominant concerns. He regretted the departure of the Irish republic from the Commonwealth, but was unhappy when India remained within it after it became a republic, fearing the example this would set South Africa's Nationalists. His outstanding contributions as a world statesman were acknowledged in innumerable honors and medals. At home his reputation was more mixed. Nevertheless, despite ill health he continued his public commitments.

On May 29, 1950, a week after the public celebration of his eightieth birthday in Johannesburg and Pretoria, he suffered a coronary thrombosis. He died of a subsequent attack on his family farm of Doornkloof, Irene, near Pretoria, on September 11, 1950, and was buried at Pretoria on September 16.

Statue in Parliament Square, London, by Jacob Epstein

Support for Zionism

South African supporters of Theodor Herzl contacted Smuts in 1916. Smuts, who supported the Balfour Declaration, met and became friends with Chaim Weizmann, the future President of Israel, in London. In 1943 Weizmann wrote to Smuts, detailing a plan to develop Britain's African colonies to compete with the United States. During his service as Premier, Smuts personally fundraised for multiple Zionist organizations.[14] His government granted de facto recognition to Israel on May 24, 1948 and de jure recognition on May 14, 1949.[15] However, Smuts was deputy prime minister when the Hertzog government in 1937 passed the Aliens Act that was aimed at preventing Jewish immigration to South Africa. The act was seen as a response to growing anti-Semitic sentiments among Afrikaners. [16]

He lobbied against the White Paper.[17]

Several streets and a kibbutz, Ramat Yohanan, in Israel are named after Smuts.[15]

Smuts' wrote an epitaph for Weizmann, describing him as the greatest Jew since Moses."[18]

Smuts once said:

Great as are the changes wrought by this war, the great world war of justice and freedom, I doubt whether any of these changes surpass in interest the liberation of Palestine and its recognition as the Home of Israel.[19]


In 1931, he became the first foreign President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In that year, he was also elected the second foreign Lord Rector of St Andrews University (after Fridtjof Nansen). In 1948, he was elected Chancellor of Cambridge University, becoming the first foreigner to hold that position. He held the position until his death.

He is remembered also for the coining of the terms holism and holistic: abstractions not unnaturally linked to his political concerns. The earliest recorded use of the word apartheid is also attributed to him, from a 1917 speech. His position on the superiority and inferiority of races remains a subject of discussion. In the same 1917 speech, he stated:

We must have national unity in South Africa as the one true basis of future stability and strength—and that national unity is entirely consistent with the preservation of our language, our traditions, our cultural interests, and all that is dear to us in our past. … The ideal of national unity means a continuous effort towards better relations, towards mutual respect and forbearance, towards cooperation, and that breadth of view and character which will be the most potent instrument for dealing with our problems."[20]

However, in 1948, he Smuts made a statement in Parliament that he did not recognize the principles of equality between races, despite his strong support for the racially diverse British Commonwealth as a "voluntary association of nations of equal status" bound by common loyalty to the Crown."[21]

After the death of Woodrow Wilson and the implementation of the Treaty of Versailles, Smuts uttered the words that perhaps best defined the Treaty negotiations "Not Wilson, but humanity failed at Paris."[22] He instinctively knew that the heavy reparations demanded from Germany bode ill for the future. His instinct was to form closer alliances between nations, to shift towards world unity expressed through his support for the British Commonwealth, the League of Nations and for the United Nations. The UN Charter's words, "to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors" sum up his hope for the world. He wanted, regardless of his ideas on race, a "better world" for all people.

Smuts was an amateur botanist, and a number of South African plants are named after him.

The international airport servicing Johannesburg was known as 'Jan Smuts Airport' from its construction in 1952 until 1994. In 1994, it was renamed to 'Johannesburg International Airport' to remove any political connotations. In 2006, it was renamed again (re-attaching political connotation), to 'Oliver Tambo International Airport'. The South African Government has yet to explain the reversal of policy now allowing national service facilities to be named after political figures thus fueling the perception that there is a policy of eradicating the history or memory of the South African white population.

The premier men's residence at the University of Cape Town, Smuts Hall, is named after him. Jan Smuts Residence at Rhodes University is also named after him, as is the Law faculty building at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The Libertines recorded a song titled "General Smuts" in reference to a pub named after him located in Bloemfontein Road, Shepherds Bush, close to QPR football club. It appeared as a B-side to their single "Time for Heroes."[23]

In the television program, Young Indiana Jones, the protagonist at a period in the first world war in East Africa encounters a group of superb soldiers, one of whom is a General with more than a passing resemblance, and character (though not the name) of Smuts, particularly during engagements with Letto von Griem in East Africa.[24]

In 1932, the kibbutz Ramat Yohanan in Israel was named after him. Smuts was a vocal proponent of the creation of a Jewish state, and spoke out against the rising anti-Semitism of the 1930s.[25]

Smuts is portrayed by South African playwright Athol Fugard in the 1982 film Gandhi.[26] Although Smut's own government imprisoned Gandhi, who spent six years in prison while in South Africa, Smuts admired him. In 1914, Gandhi sent him a pair of sandals. Smuts wore these often but returned them to Gandhi in 1938, writing that he was "not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man."[27]

Wilbur Smith refers to and portrays Jan Smuts in several of his South African based novels including When the Lion Feeds,[28] The Sound of Thunder,[29]A Sparrow Falls,[30]Power of the Sword[31] and Rage.[32] Smuts is often referred to as "Slim (Clever) Jannie" or Oubaas (Old Boss) as well as his proper names.

In 2004 he was named by voters in a poll held by the South African Broadcasting Corporation as one of the top ten Greatest South Africans of all time. The final positions of the top ten were to be decided by a second round of voting, but the program was taken off the air due to political controversy, and Nelson Mandela was given the number one spot based on the first round of voting. In the first round, Jan Smuts came sixth.


  • Privy Councillor
  • Order of Merit
  • Companion of Honor
  • Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst
  • Efficiency Decoration
  • King's Counsel
  • Fellow of the Royal Society
  • Bencher of the Middle Temple
  • Albert Medal

Medals, Commonwealth and South African

  • Boer War Medal
  • 1914-15 Star
  • Victory Medal
  • General Service Medal
  • King George V's Jubilee Medal
  • King George VI's Coronation Medal
  • Africa Star
  • Italy Star
  • France and Germany Star
  • Defense Medal
  • War Medal 1939–1945
  • Africa Service Medal

Foreign decorations and medals

  • Service Medal (Mediterranean Area) (USA)
  • Order of the Tower and Sword for Velour, Loyalty and Merit (Portugal)
  • Grootkruis van de Orde van de Nederlandsche Leeuw (Netherlands)
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of Mohamed Ali (Egypt)
  • Grand Cross of the Order of the Redeemer (Greece)
  • Grand Cross of the Order of Léopold (Belgium)
  • Croix de guerre (Belgium)
  • Légion d'honneur Croix de Commandeur (France)
  • La Grand Croix de l'Ordre de L'Etoile Africane (Belgium)
  • King Christian X Frihedsmedaille (Denmark)
  • Aristion Andrias (Greece)
  • Woodrow Wilson Peace Medal

Political offices
Preceded by:
New office
Minister for the Interior
1910 – 1912
Succeeded by: Abraham Fischer
Preceded by:
New office
Minister for Defense (first time)
1910 – 1920
Succeeded by: Hendrick Mentz
Preceded by:
Henry Charles Hull
Minister for Finance
1912 – 1915
Succeeded by: Sir David Pieter de Villiers Graaff
Preceded by:
Louis Botha
Prime Minister (first time)
1919 – 1924
Succeeded by: James Barry Munnik Hertzog
Preceded by:
Oswald Pirow
Minister for Justice
1933 – 1939
Succeeded by: Colin Fraser Steyn
Preceded by:
James Barry Munnik Hertzog
Prime Minister (second time)
1939 – 1948
Succeeded by: Daniel François Malan
Preceded by:
Oswald Pirow
Minister for Defense (second time)
1939 – 1948
Succeeded by: Frans Erasmus
Preceded by:
James Barry Munnik Hertzog
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1939 – 1948
Succeeded by: Daniel François Malan
Party Political Offices
Preceded by:
Louis Botha
Leader of the South African Party
1919 – 1934
SAP Merged into United Party
Preceded by:
James Barry Munnik Hertzog
Leader of the United Party
1939 – 1950
Succeeded by: Jacobus Gideon Nel Strauss
Academic offices
Preceded by:
Sir Wilfred Grenfell
Rector of the University of St Andrews
1931 – 1934
Succeeded by: Guglielmo Marconi
Preceded by:
Stanley Baldwin
Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
1948 – 1950
Succeeded by: The Lord Tedder


  1. Jan Christiaan Smuts, W.K. Hancock, and Jean Van Der Poel. Letter from Marais to Smuts, 8 Aug 1892, Volume 1. 25.
  2. Jan Christian Smuts. Jan Christian Smuts: a biography. (original 1952) (reprint ed. New York, NY: Morrow. ISBN 9780837170596), 23.
  3. Jan Christiaan Smuts, W.K. Hancock, and Jean Van Der Poel. Letter from Maitland to Smuts, 15 June 1894, Volume 1, 33-34.
  4. Jan Christiaan Smuts, Gail Nattrass, and S.B. Spies. 1994. Memoirs of the Boer War. (Johannesburg, SA: Jonathan Ball Publishers. ISBN 9781868420179), 19.
  5. Smuts, 1952, 24.
  6. Smuts, 1952, 252.
  7. F.S. Crawford. (1943) 2005. Jan Smuts: A Biography. (reprint ed. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger. ISBN 9781417992904), 140.
  8. Smuts, Nattrass, and Spies, 1994, 19.
  9. Smuts, 2005, 54.
  10. J.C. Smuts. 1930. Africa and Some World Problems: Including the Rhodes Memorial Lectures Delivered in Michaelmas Term, 1929. (Oxford, UK: The Clarendon Press), 76.
  11. Peter Henshaw, 2003. South African Territorial Expansion and the International Reaction to South African Racial Polices, 1939 to 1948. Workshop on South Africa in the 1940s, Southern African Research Centre, Kingston. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  12. Alistair Boddy-Evans, The Fagan Commission and Report Apartheid Times. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  13. John Colville. 1985. The fringes of power: Downing Street diaries 1939-1955. (London, UK: Phoenix. ISBN 9781842126264), 269-271.
  14. Jane Hunter. 1987. Israeli Foreign Policy: South Africa and Central America. (Boston, MA: South End Press. ISBN 9780896082861), 21-22.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. 1988. The Israeli Connection: Whom Israel Arms and Why. (London, UK: Tauris. ISBN 9781850430698), 109-111.
  16. [1]
  17. Howard Stafford and Richard Crossman. 1960. A Nation Reborn: A Personal Report on the Roles Played by Weizmann, Bevin and Ben-Gurion in the story of Israel. (New York, NY: Atheneum Publishers), 76.
  18. Norman Lockyer, Nature.
  19. Aaron S. Klieman, 1987. "The Rise of Israel. The Palestine Royal Commission, 1937." The Rise of Israel. 22. (New York, NY: Garland Pub. ISBN 9780824049201), 16.
  20. cited by Margaret Thatcher, 1991. Fourth Smuts Lecture ("A Time for Greatness"). Margaret Thatcher Foundation. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  21. Dr Dadoo, Reply to Smut's Statement on Inequality of Races. Johannesburg Passive Register February 13, 1948. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  22. Thomas Andrew Bailey. 1945. Woodrow Wilson and the great betrayal. (New York, NY: Macmillan Co.), 367.
  23. Libertines (Musical group). 2007. Time for heroes the best of the Libertines. (New York, NY: Rough Trade Records.)
  24. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  25. Harry Schneiderman, 1934. Jewish American Year Book 5695. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America. Retrieved November 21, 2008. Tel Aviv and several other Israeli cities have a Jan Smuts Street.
  26. Richard Attenborough, John Briley, Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, et al. 2001. Gandhi. (Burbank, CA: Columbia TriStar Home Video. ISBN 9780767828079).
  27. April Carter. 1995. Mahatma Gandhi: a selected bibliography. (Bibliographies of world leaders, no. 2. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313282966), 14.
  28. Wilbur A. Smith. 2006. When the lion feeds. (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312940669).
  29. Wilbur A. Smith, 1992. The sound of thunder. (New York, NY: Fawcett Gold Medal. ISBN 9780449148198).
  30. Wilbur A. Smith, 1978. A sparrow falls. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 9780385136037).
  31. Wilbur A. Smith, 1986. Power of the sword. (Boston, MA: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316801713).
  32. Wilbur A. Smith, 1987. Rage. (Boston, MA: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316801799.)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Armstrong, H.C. 1951. Grey steel: J.C. Smuts. London, UK: Methuen & Co.
  • Attenborough, Richard, John Briley, Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, et al. 2001. Gandhi. Burbank, CA: Columbia TriStar Home Video. ISBN 9780767828079.
  • Bailey, Thomas Andrew. (1945) 1963. Woodrow Wilson and the great betrayal. reprint ed. Times Books. ISBN 0812960017.
  • Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin. 1988. The Israeli Connection: Whom Israel Arms and Why. London, UK: Tauris. ISBN 9781850430698.
  • Beukes, Piet. Smuts the botanist: the Cape flora and the grasses of Africa. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1996. ISBN 0798135298.
  • Carter, April. 1995. Mahatma Gandhi: a selected bibliography. (Bibliographies of world leaders, no. 2.) Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313282966.
  • Clark, Nancy L., and William H. Worger. 2004. South Africa: the rise and fall of apartheid. (Seminar studies in history.) Harlow, UK: Pearson Longman. ISBN 9780582414372.
  • Colville, John. 1985. The fringes of power: Downing Street diaries 1939-1955. London, UK: Phoenix. ISBN 9781842126264.
  • Crawford, F.S. (1943) 2005. Jan Smuts: A Biography. reprint ed. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger. ISBN 9781417992904.
  • Friedman, Bernard. 1975. Smuts: a reappraisal. London, UK: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9780049200456.
  • Geyser, O. 2001. Jan Smuts and his international contemporaries. Johannesburg, ZA: Covos Day. ISBN 9781919874104.
  • Hancock, William Keith. 1968. Smuts. 2, The fields of force: 1919-1950. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Hunter, Jane. 1987. Israeli Foreign Policy: South Africa and Central America. Boston, MA: South End Press. ISBN 9780896082861.
  • Ingham, Kenneth. 1986. Jan Christian Smuts: the conscience of a South African. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312439972.
  • Reitz, Deneys. 1968. Commando: a Boer journal of the Boer War. London, UK: Faber. ISBN 9780571087785.
  • Smith, Wilbur A. 1992. The sound of thunder. New York, NY: Fawcett Gold Medal. ISBN 9780449148198.
  • Smith, Wilbur A. 1986. Power of the sword. Boston, MA: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316801713.
  • Smith, Wilbur A. 1987. Rage. Boston, MA: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316801799.
  • Smith, Wilbur A. 1978. A sparrow falls. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 9780385136037.
  • Smith, Wilbur A. 2006. When the lion feeds. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312940669.
  • Smuts, J.C. 1930. Africa and Some World Problems: Including the Rhodes Memorial Lectures Delivered in Michaelmas Term, 1929. Oxford, UK: The Clarendon Press.
  • Smuts, J.C. 1926. 2006. Holism and evolution. New York, NY: Macmillan Co. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Pub. ISBN 9781428623286.
  • Smuts, J.C. (1952) 1973. Jan Christian Smuts: a biography. reprint ed. New York, NY: Morrow. ISBN 9780837170596.
  • Smuts, J.C. (1944) 2005. Toward A Better World. reprint ed. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger. ISBN 9781419162794.
  • Smuts, Jan Christiaan, Gail Nattrass, and S.B. Spies. 1994. Memoirs of the Boer War. Johannesburg, ZA: J. Ball. ISBN 9781868420179.
  • Smuts, Jan Christiaan, W.K. Hancock, and Jean Van Der Poel. 1966. Selections from the Smuts papers. Cambridge, UK: University Press. ISBN 9780521707831.

External links

All links retrieved March 21, 2018.


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