General J.C. Smuts (80), former prime minister of SA, dies

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Monday, 11 September 1950

South Africa's former Prime Minister on two occasions, from 1919 - 1924 and 1939-1948, General J.C. Smuts passed away at the age of 80 on his Doorkloof farm in Irene, near Pretoria. His ashes were scattered on Smuts Koppie near the farm. As prime minister he opposed the view of the majority of Afrikaners by joining World War II

During the war, inspired by the Native Representative Council, the African National Congress (ANC), the Transvaal Indian Council and other organisations, the non-White races became increasingly dissatisfied with their political impotence and economic backwardness. To look into these grievances, Smuts established the Fagan Commission after WW II in August 1946, to investigate laws relating to urban Blacks, pass laws, and the socio-economic circumstances of migrant workers. Smuts, on behalf of the United Party, accepted the third suggested policy, namely that of acceptance of the fact that Whites and the other races existed side by side in South Africa (in opposition to the belief that they were only temporary residents in White areas who should stay in their reserves) and that legislation and administration would have to take into account the differences between them. This commission, and Smuts with them, in effect considered the policy of apartheid or total segregation altogether impractical. In Smuts' own words: "The idea that the Natives must all be removed and confined in their own kraals is in my opinion the greatest nonsense I have ever heard." 

In the meantime, the Herenigde National Party appointed the Sauer Commission to formulate guidelines for a future policy towards other races. The Sauer Commission, fearing that a policy steering a middle course between equalisation and apartheid would lead to integration, advocated the policy of apartheid.

The general election of May 1948, won by the  Herenigde National Party largely supported by the Afrikaner community, decided the future policy of South Africa for the next fifty years. After the election Smuts resigned and Dr. D.F. Malan took over the government.

In 2004 Smuts was named by voters in an opinion poll held by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) 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 programme was taken off the air due to political controversy. Nelson Mandela was given the number one position based on the first round of voting, while Jan Smuts came sixth. 

References:
• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau; The Star, 04 September 2003. Milestones.
• South African History Online, General Jan Christiaan Smuts, [online], Available at www.sahistory.org.za [10 September 2013]

Last updated : 11-Sep-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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