Dimitri Tsafendas: Wikis


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Dimitri Tsafendas (14 January 1918 – 7 October 1999) assassinated South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd on 6 September 1966.[1] Tsafendas, working as a parliamentary messenger, stabbed Verwoerd with a dagger during a parliamentary session.


Prior life

Tsafendas was born in Lourenço Marques (today's Maputo) to Michaelis Tsafendas, a Greek seaman, and Amelia Williams, a Mozambican of mixed race. He was raised by his grandmother.[2] At the age of ten, he moved to Transvaal, returning to Mozambique four years later. Tsafendas was shunned in white circles in Southern Africa because of his dark skin, though under the apartheid system's racial laws he was classified as white.[3]

During the 1930s, Tsafendas joined the Communist Party.[4] He became a seaman in the merchant marine in 1941. By this time, symptoms of schizophrenia had already begun to manifest. He was hospitalized several times in various countries due to outbreaks of irrational behavior.[5]

He had become a baptised member of the Two by Two sect while visiting Greece, and associated with its members after returning to South Africa on a temporary visa.[6] Following the assassination, he was disowned by the church.[7]

In 1966, Tsafendas obtained a temporary position as a parliamentary messenger. A month later on 6 September, Prime Minister Verwoerd entered the House of Assembly and made his way to his seat. Tsafendas approached him, drew a concealed knife, and stabbed Dr. Verwoerd multiple times in the chest before he could be pulled away by other members of parliament.[8]


At the trial, Judge Andries Beyers declared Tsafendas not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.[9] He had been diagnosed as being schizophrenic and claimed that he had a giant tapeworm inside him, which spoke to him.[10] The court ordered that he be detained "at the pleasure of the State President", which meant that only the South African State President had the authority to release him. He was never released.

Tsafendas was at first given a cell on death row in Pretoria Central Prison, next to the room in which men were hanged, sometimes seven at a time.[11] In 1986, he was transferred to Zonderwater Prison near Cullinan. In 1994, he was transferred again, this time to Sterkfontein psychiatric hospital outside Krugersdorp, where he died at the age of 81.[12]

Tsafendas died in October 1999 of pneumonia aggravated by chronic heart failure. His funeral was held according to Greek Orthodox rites, and he was buried in an unmarked grave outside Sterkfontein Hospital.[5][13]

An award-winning play entitled Tsafendas by Anton Krueger was presented to South African audiences in 2002. A London production entitled I.D. was written by the noted Shakespearean actor Anthony Sher, who had lived in Cape Town at the time of the incident. I.D. premiered at the Almeida Theatre in London in 2003, followed by an American debut in 2005.[14]


  1. ^ Obituary: Long-jailed assassin of South African premier in The Guardian, 11 October 1999. Archived by WebCite at [1] Retrieved on 8 July 2009.
  2. ^ Hollington, Kris. 2008. Wolves, Jackals, and Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History. New York: Macmillan, p. 116. ISBN 978-0-3123-7899-8
  3. ^ Kahn, Ely J. The Separated People: A Look at Contemporary South Africa. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company, p. 149. ISBN 978-0-3930-5351-7
  4. ^ Dyzenhaus, David. 1998. Judging the Judges, Judging Ourselves: truth, reconciliation and the apartheid legal order Oxford: Hart Publishing, p. 50. ISBN 978-1-9013-6294-7
  5. ^ a b Robins, Jon. "The Assassin and the Tapeworm," The New Statesman. London. 27 March 2000.
  6. ^ Hollington, Kris. 2008. Wolves, Jackals, and Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History. New York: Macmillan, p. 117. ISBN 978-0-3123-7899-8
  7. ^ Account of Tsafendas in South Africa before the assassination. Archived by WebCite at [2] Retrieved on 8 July 2009.
  8. ^ Morris, Michael and Linnegar, John with the South Africa Ministry of Education, Human Sciences Research Council, Social Cohesion & Integration Research Programme. 2004. Every Step of the Way: the journey to freedom in South Africa‎. Cape Town: HSRC Press, pp. 184-185. ISBN 978-0-7969-2061-4
  9. ^ Bell, Terry Bell and Ntsebeza, Dumisa Buhle. 2003. Unfinished Business: South Africa, apartheid, and truth. New York: Verso, p. 57. ISBN 978-1-8598-4545-5
  10. ^ "The Tapeworm Murder," Time Magazine. New York, New York, 28 October 1966.
  11. ^ Jon Robins. "The Assassin and the Tapeworm," The New Statesman. London. 27 March 2000.
  12. ^ Obituaries: "Dimitri Tsafendas; S. African Assassin," The Los Angeles Times. 8 October 1999
  13. ^ van Woerden, Henk (translated by Dan Jacobson). 2002. The Assassin: a story of race and rage in the land of apartheid. New York: Macmillan. pp. 159-163. ISBN 978-0-3124-2084-0
  14. ^ Carter, Alice T. "Musings of 'I.D.' Offer Intellectual Exercise," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 24 May 2005.

Further reading

  • van Woerden, Henk (translated by Dan Jacobson). 2000. A Mouthful of Glass. London: Granta Books. ISBN 978-1-8620-7383-8

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