In Defence of Jan Smuts, Nigeria and Ethiopia

by   Okello Oculi, Ph.D
Executive Director, AFRICA VISION 525

  With reference to the question:"what else  has South Africa done for or at the UN for the country to be such a great-cum-viable candidate for one of the two seats?". This question rests its underlying anger and dismissive intent on apparent lack of adequate knowledge about the historical antecedents of the United Nations. Several factors may have contributed to this situation, including the writing of history in a way which treats with engineered silence contributions from Africa to intellectual elements in civilization on a global scale.

  The fact of the matter is that a South African politician of Afrikaaner stock, Jan Smuts, was a member of the team that drafted the Charter of the United Nations. Jan Smuts was, however, not merely a technocrat endowed with high quality legal skills, but a brilliant intellectual who was part of that body of thinkers who were preoccupied with visioning a new world order which would transcend the destructiveness and barbarism (including the genocide in Europe against six million Jews), of the Second World War. Jan Smuts' politics inside South Africa was clearly ethno-racist since he believed in excluding black Africans from politics altogether, but endorsed their inclusion in South Africa's economy as the losers of their land to white Boer-Dutch settler farmers; and, most crucially, as suppliers of slave labour. He lost political power for being devoted to the view that South Africa should remain a member of the British Empire; a view seen as antithetical to the national independence of his own people, the Boers.

The Ghanaphile who is against South Africa's candidature may well question the "Africanness" of Jan Smuts on the grounds that he was not a black South African. It is not evident to me that the post-apatheid South African constitution denies South African citizenship, and true "Africanness" to persons of non-black ethnic/racial roots. Jan Smuts' contribution clearly precedes those made to the UN by the technocrats he cites; and, as the labour of a founder, may, both ceremonially and substantively, be accorded a higher intellectual and historical status.

The silence by the author over Nigeria's contribution to the liberation struggles in Southern Africa; with the support for the MPLA government in Angola and Cuba's support to Angola (against arrogant opposition by President Ford at the White House), being the most dramatic and pivotal; as well as to resolving conflict and the disintegration of state and societies in Liberia and Sierra Leone, is most puzzling. These roles clearly fell within the Security Council's mandate of promoting international peace and security, even though veto-wielding members of the body did promote their national interests in opposition to these initiatives. Likewise, his silence over Ethiopia's contribution. It is difficult to accept the suggestion that being devoted to Ghana should be burdened with  the philosophical status of promoting historical blindness.