Die Eerste Wereldoorlog as faktor in die Suid- Afrikaanse toetrede tot die internasionale gemeenskap

Scholtz, Leopold ; Scholtz, Ingrid (2016-03)

CITATION: Scholtz, L. & Scholtz, I. 2016. Die Eerste Wereldoorlog as faktor in die Suid- Afrikaanse toetrede tot die internasionale gemeenskap. Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe, 56(1):190-206, doi:10.17159/2224-7912/2016/v56n1a12.

The original publication is available at http://www.scielo.org.za

Article

When the First World War started on 4 August, 1914, the Union of South Africa was barely four years old. In international terms the country was on the far end of the world and not very important. In addition, the country was a self-governing British Dominion, not able to pursue an independent foreign policy. Nevertheless, at the Versailles Peace Treaty of1919, co-signed by its representatives, Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts, South Africa was recognised as a player in its own right on the international political podium. This was brought about by especially two factors. The first was South Africa's military role in occupying German South West Africa and its important role in the occupation of German East Africa. The second was the participation of an infantry brigade on the Western Front in France and Flanders. Although this role was limited, it was exploited to the hilt by Jan Smuts during his sojourn in London and Paris during 1917-1919. Smuts was received as a hero when he arrived in London in the first months of 1917, and became a member of both the Imperial War Cabinet and the British War Cabinet. As such, his contribution to the Imperial Conference of April 1917 was conclusive in getting recognition for the Dominions' right to independence - although it would take until 1926 and 1931 for this to be legally formalised. Nevertheless, Smuts played a decisive role in winning the right for the Dominions to be represented in their own right at the Paris Peace Conference and sign the Versailles Peace Treaty. In the months before the Armistice of November 1918, he was Prime Minister David Lloyd George's right hand man and did an unbelievable amount of work, including advising the British High Command on Western Front operations, the founding of the Royal Air Force, solving various labour disputes and even sounding out the Austrians about peace. After the Armistice, Smuts played a huge role in conjunction with President Woodrow Wilson in bringing about the League of Nations. However, the last weeks before the Peace saw Smuts locked in a bitter fight with French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau-full of hatred for the despised Boches - as well as Woodrow Wilson (who had all but abandoned his own conciliatory approach) and an opportunistic, vaccillating Lloyd George, Smuts resisted the severe peace conditions dictated to the Germans. He repeatedly drew the others 'attention to the British magnanimity after the Anglo-Boer War as an example of how conciliation could be achieved, and pleaded for a similar approach to the Germans. Moreover, he saw that Germany had to play a decisive role in any future Europe. He feared that the severe conditions would fuel so much bitterness in Germany that it could lead to a future war - which, of course, did happen barely 20 years later. Smuts felt so strongly about this that he threatened not to sign the peace treaty, and it took massive pressure by Lloyd George and his own Prime Minister, Louis Botha, to change his mind. Nevertheless, in spite of his failure, by June 1919 especially Smuts had carved out for South Africa an international standing which nobody could have imagined five years previously.

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