Remarkable People

ID #5257

Jan Smuts 6 First World War.

The Union of South Africa was born and, because they formed the largest part of the electorate, Afrikaners held the keys to political power. Although Botha was appointed Prime Minister, Smuts was given three key ministries – i.e. Interior, Mines, and Defense. Smuts was thus the second most-powerful man in the country. To consolidate their dominance, Afrikaners united to form the South African Party. However the harmony and cooperation soon ended. Smuts was criticized for his powers, and was reshuffled, losing his Defence and the Mines portfolios but gaining control of the Treasury. This was still too much for Smuts' opponents, who decried his possession of both Defense and Finance. At the 1913 party conference, the Old Boers (Hertzog, Steyn, and De Wet), called for Botha and Smuts to step down. They narrowly survived a confidence vote and the troublesome triumvirate stormed out, leaving the party for good.

With the schism in party politics came a new threat to the mines that brought South Africa its wealth. A miners' dispute flared into a full-blown strike and rioting broke out in Johannesburg. After police shot twenty-one strikers, Smuts and Botha headed to Johannesburg to resolve the situation. Facing down threats to their own lives, they negotiated a cease-fire. The cease-fire did not hold, and, in 1914, a railway strike turned into a general strike, Threats of a revolution caused Smuts to declare martial law. He acted ruthlessly, deporting union leaders without trial and using Parliament to absolve the government of blame.

This was too much for the Old Boers, who set up a new party (the National Party) to fight the Botha-Smuts partnership. They urged Smuts' opponents to arm themselves, and civil war seemed inevitable. In October 1914, when the government was faced with open rebellion by Lt Col Manie Maritz and others, its forces under the command of Botha and Smuts put down the rebellion.

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 1914. Next he and Louis Botha led the South African army into and conquered German South West Africa (Namibia)  In 1916 Smuts was charged with the conquest of German East Africa (Tanzania). Early in 1917 he was invited to join the Imperial War Cabinet by David Lloyd George, so he went to London where, in 1918, he helped create the Royal Air Force.

Smuts and Botha were key negotiators at the Paris Peace Conference. Both were in favour of reconciliation with Germany as well as limited reparations. After the death of the American President Woodrow Wilson, Smuts said: "Not Wilson, but humanity failed at Paris." 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 (Namibia), which was occupied from 1919 until 1990.

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Last update: 2014-03-17 02:32
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.3

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