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Jan Smuts statue in Parliament Square, London
|Jan Smuts. (credit: EB Inc.)
(born May 24, 1870, Bovenplaats, near Riebeeck West, Cape Colony — died Sept. 11, 1950, Irene, near Pretoria, S.Af.) South African statesman, soldier, and prime minister (1919 – 24, 1939 – 48). An Afrikaner, Smuts studied law at Cambridge University. Returning to South Africa, he was appointed state attorney in Pretoria by Pres. Paul Kruger in 1897. He fought the British in the South African War and joined with Louis Botha to oppose Alfred Milner's implementation of the peace terms. By 1905 Smuts was reconciled to British control and sought to keep South Africa within the Commonwealth. In World War I he joined again with Botha to suppress rebellion, conquer South West Africa, and launch a campaign in East Africa. He attended the Versailles peace conference and helped promote the League of Nations. When Botha died, Smuts became prime minister. He was defeated in 1924 by a National Party coalition. In 1933 he helped J.B.M. Hertzog force out the extreme nationalists, and in 1939 he replaced Hertzog as prime minister. Under his leadership South Africa helped prevent Germany and Italy from conquering North Africa. In 1948 he was defeated by Daniel F. Malan's Nationalists. He ended his life as chancellor of Cambridge University.