Jan Christiaan Smuts
Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts (24 May 1870 – 11 September 1950) was a South African statesman, military leader, and philosopher. In addition to holding various military and cabinet posts, he served as prime minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 to 1924 and 1939 to 1948.
Smuts was born to Afrikaner parents in the British Cape Colony. He was educated locally before reading law at Christ’s College, Cambridge, on a scholarship. He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1894 but returned home the following year. In the lead up to the Second Boer War, Smuts practised law in Pretoria, the capital of the South African Republic. He led the republic’s delegation to the Bloemfontein Conference and served as an officer in a commando unit following the outbreak of war in 1899. In 1902 he played a key role in negotiating the Treaty of Vereeniging, which ended the war and resulted in the annexation of the South African Republic and Orange Free State into the British Empire. He subsequently helped negotiate self-government for the Transvaal Colony, becoming a cabinet minister under Louis Botha.
Smuts played a leading role in the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, helping shape its constitution. He and Botha established the South African Party, with Botha becoming the union’s first prime minister and Smuts holding multiple cabinet portfolios. As defence minister he was responsible for the Union Defence Force during World War I. Smuts personally led troops in the East African campaign in 1916 and the following year joined the Imperial War Cabinet in London. He played a leading role at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, advocating for the creation of the League of Nations and securing South African control over the former German South-West Africa.
In 1919, Smuts replaced Botha as prime minister, holding the office until the South African Party’s defeat at the 1924 general election by J. B. M. Hertzog‘s National Party. He spent several years in academia, during which he coined the term “holism“, before eventually re-entering politics as deputy prime minister in a coalition with Hertzog; in 1934 their parties subsequently merged to form the United Party. Smuts returned as prime minister in 1939, leading South Africa into World War II at the head of a pro-interventionist faction. He was appointed field marshal in 1941 and in 1945 signed the UN Charter, the only signer of the Treaty of Versailles to do so. His second term in office ended with the victory of the reconstituted National Party at the 1948 general election, with the new government beginning the implementation of apartheid.
Smuts was an internationalist who played a key role in establishing and defining the League of Nations, United Nations and Commonwealth of Nations. He supported racial segregation, although at the end of his career his support of the Fagan Commission‘s recommendations marked him as a liberal by South African standards.