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Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd

In office
2 September 1958 – 6 September 1966
Preceded by Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom
Succeeded by Balthazar Johannes Vorster

Born 8 September 1901(1901-09-08)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died 6 September 1966 (aged 64)
Cape Town, Cape Province, South Africa
Political party National Party
Spouse(s) Betsie Schoombie
Apartheid in South Africa
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Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (8 September 1901 – 6 September 1966) was Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 until his assassination in 1966. Verwoerd was born in the Netherlands and emigrated at age two with his parents to South Africa.

He served as Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 until he was stabbed to death by an assassin in 1966. He was Prime Minister during the establishment of the Republic of South Africa in 1960, thereby fulfilling the Afrikaner dream of an independent republic for South Africans. During his tenure as Prime Minister, anti-Apartheid movements such as the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress were banned, and the Rivonia Trial, which prosecuted the struggle leaders, was held.

Numerous major roads, places and facilities in towns and cities in South Africa were named after Verwoerd, like the H. F. Verwoerd Airport in Port Elizabeth, the Verwoerd Dam in the Free State and the town of Verwoerdburg. In Post-Apartheid-South Africa, most of them have been renamed.


Early life

He was the second child of Anje Strik and Wilhelmus Johannes Verwoerd. His father was a shopkeeper and a deeply religious man who decided to move to South Africa in 1903 because of his sympathy towards the Afrikaner nation after the South African War. Hendrik Verwoerd had an elder brother named Leendert and a younger sister named Lucie. In 1913, the family moved to Bulawayo, Rhodesia, the elder Verwoerd became an assistant evangelist in the Dutch Reformed Church. Hendrik Verwoerd attended Milton High School where he did so well that he was awarded the Beit Scholarship, but was forced to decline because of his family’s move back to South Africa, Brandfort in the Orange Free State. Due to the worldwide spanish flu epidemic, Hendrik Verwoerd only sat for his matriculation exams in February 1919, proving himself to be an able student at the Lutheran School in Wynberg and the Wynberg High School for Boys, achieving first position in the Orange Free State and fifth in South Africa.[1]

After his schooling, he proceeded to study theology at the University of Stellenbosch, later changing to psychology and philosophy. He was awarded a masters and a doctorate in philosophy, both cum laude, and turned down an Abe Bailey scholarship to Oxford University, England, opting to continue his studies in psychology and theology in Germany. Verwoerd left for Germany in 1925, and stayed there during 1926, studying at the Universities of Hamburg, Berlin and Leipzig. His later critics have at times suggested that this coincided with the rise of German National Socialism in the 1930s; according to the 'Dictionary of South African Biography' of 1981, this stay predated it by a number of years. During this visit, he might have met with Fischer, but at this stage, Social Darwinism was not the focus of Verwoerd's research, so the Dictionary. He published a number of works dating back to that time.[2] Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd's fiancee, Betsie Schoombie, joined him in Germany and they were subsequently married on 7 January 1927 in Hamburg. Later that year, he continued his studies in Britain and then in the United States of America. His lecture notes and memoranda at Stellenbosch stressed that there were no biological differences between the big racial groups, and concluded that "this was not really a factor in the development of a higher social civilization by the Caucasians." [3]

He published a number of works dating back to his time in Germany:

"A method for the experimental production of emotions" (1926)

"'n Bydrae tot die metodiek en probleemstelling vir die psigologiese ondersoek van koerante-advert" ("A contribution on the psychological methodology of newspaper advertisement") (1928)

"The distribution of 'attention' and its testing" (1928)

"Effects of fatigue on the distribution of attention" (1928)

"A contribution to the experimental investigation of testimony" (1929?)

"Oor die opstel van objektiewe persoonlikheidsbepalingskemas" ("Objective criteria to determine personality types") (1930?)

"Oor die persoonlikheid van die mens en die beskrywing daarvan" ("On the human personality and the description thereof") (1930?)

Return to South Africa

He returned with his wife to South Africa in 1928 and was appointed to the chair of Applied Psychology and six years later also became Professor of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Stellenbosch. During the Depression years of 1929 Verwoerd became active in social work among poor White South Africans. He devoted much attention to welfare work and was often consulted by welfare organisations, while he served on numerous committees. His efforts in the field of national welfare drew him into politics and in 1936 he was offered the first editorship of ‘Die Transvaler’, a position which he took up in 1937, with the added responsibility of helping to rebuild the National Party of South Africa (NP) in the Transvaal. Die Transvaler was a publication which supported the aspirations of Afrikaner nationalism, agricultural and labour rights. Combining republicanism, populism and protectionism, the paper helped "solidify the sentiments of most South Africans, that changes to the socio-economic system were vitally needed".[4]

Government service

The South African general election of 1948 was held on the 26 May 1948 and saw the Nationalist Party win the general election. Running on the platform of self-determination and apartheid as it was termed for the first time, Prime Minister Daniel Malan and his party benefited from their support in the rural electorates, defeating General Smuts and his United Party. General Smuts lost his own seat of Standerton. Most party leaders agreed that the nationalist policies were responsible for the National Party's victory. To further cement their nationalist policies, Herenigde Nasionale Party leader Daniel Malan called for stricter enforcement of job reservation protecting the rights of the White working class, and the rights of White workers to organize their own labour unions outside of company control.

Hendrik Verwoerd was elected to the Senate later that year, and became the minister of native affairs under Prime Minister Malan in 1950, until his appointment as prime minister in 1958. In that position, he helped to implement the Nationalist Party's program.[4]

Among the laws which were drawn and enacted during Verwoerd's time as minister for native affairs were the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act in 1950, the Pass Laws Act of 1952 and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953.

Prime Minister

Prime Minister Daniel Malan announced his retirement from politics following the successful elections of 1953. In the succession debate that followed Dr. Malan's retirement, N.C. Havenga, Theophilus Ebenhaezer Dönges and Verwoerd were potential successors. The strongest candidate J.G. Strijdom eventually was nominated Prime Minister.

Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd gradually gained popularity with the Afrikaner electorate and continued to expand his political support. With his overwhelming constituency victory in the 1958 election and the death shortly thereafter of Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom, Verwoerd was appointed by the Governor-General to organize a Government as Prime Minister.


Hendrik Verwoerd is often called the “Architect of Apartheid”[5] for his role in shaping the implementation of apartheid policy when he was Minister of Native Affairs and then Prime Minister. Verwoerd himself once claimed Apartheid as a "policy of good neighbourliness".[6]

Afrikaner nationalism was skilfully mobilised by leaders in the theological, political, cultural, economic, agricultural and industrial sectors as well as in government service. A strategy of massive economic development was introduced to make South Africa less dependent on Britain and to create thousands of job opportunities.[citation needed]

Verwoerd realised that the political situation that evolved over the previous century under British rule in South Africa had become untenable. [7]

Under the Premiership of Dr. Verwoerd the following legislative acts relating to apartheid were introduced:

  • Bantu Investment Corporation Act (1959)
    • A law that offered financial incentives for industrial corporations to transfer their capital from White South Africa to the Black Homelands.
  • Extension of University Education Act (1959)
    • Legislation putting an end to black students attending white universities and creating separate tertiary institutions for the different races.[9]
  • Coloured Persons Communal Reserves Act, Act No 3 of 1961
  • Preservation of Coloured Areas Act, Act No 31 of 1961

A Republic

The creation of a Republic was one of the National Party's long-term goals since originally coming to power in 1948.

In January 1960, Verwoerd announced that a referendum would be called to determine the Republican issue, the objective being a republic within the Commonwealth. Two weeks later, Harold Macmillan, then British Prime Minister, visited South Africa. In an address to both Houses of Parliament he made his famous Winds of Change speech, which was interpreted as an end to British support for White rule.

In order to bolster support for a republic, the voting age for Whites was lowered from twenty-one to eighteen, benefiting younger Afrikaans speakers, who were more likely to favour a republic, and the franchise was extended to whites in South West Africa, most of whom were German or Afrikaans speakers.

The referendum was accepted by Parliament and was held on 5 October, 1960, in which voters were asked, "Are you in favour of a Republic for the Union?" 52 percent voted 'Yes'.[10] The Republic of South Africa came into existence on 31 May 1961, this significant date was chosen because it was the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging that had brought the Anglo-Boer War to an end in 1902. The last Governor-General, Charles Robberts Swart, took office as the first State President.

Following India's assumption of a republican status, it was agreed by Commonwealth leaders that being a Republic was not incompatible with membership, but that a Commonwealth Realm would have to reapply for Commonwealth membership if it became a Republic.

After South Africa became a republic, Verwoerd refused to accept black ambassadors from Commonwealth states.[11]

Assassination attempt

On 9 April 1960, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd opened the Union Exposition on the Witwatersrand to mark the jubilee of the Union of South Africa. David Pratt, a South African farmer from Natal attempted to assassinate Dr. Verwoerd, firing two shots from a .22 automatic pistol at point blank range, one bullet perforating his right cheek and the second his right ear.

Colonel G.M. Harrison, president of the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society, leapt up and knocked the pistol from the gunman's hand. After the pistol fell to the floor, Colonel Harrison, with the help of Major Carl Richter, the Prime Minister's personal bodyguard, civilians and another policemen overpowered the gunman and hustled him to the show grounds Police Station. The arrest was made so quickly and the removal was done so quickly that an angry section of the crowd was frustrated from assaulting the detainee. The detainee, David Pratt, was soon thereafter hurried to Marshall Square police station.

Within minutes of the assassination attempt, Dr. Verwoerd was rushed - still conscious - to the Pretoria Hospital. Two days later, the hospital issued a statement which described his condition as 'indeed satisfactory - further examinations were carried out today and they confirm good expectations. Dr. Verwoerd at present is restful. There is no need for any immediate operation.' The surgeons who worked on Dr. Verwoerd would later claim that his escape had been 'absolutely miraculous'.[citation needed] Specialist surgeons were called in to remove the bullets. At first, there was speculation that Dr Verwoerd would lose his hearing and sense of balance, but this was to prove groundless. He returned to public life on 29 May, less than two months after the shooting.

David Pratt appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrates' Court on 11 April. He was described as a 'socialite and farmer'. He was a respected member of the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society and had been close to Verwoerd on a number of occasions prior to the shooting. In fact, it was later revealed that Pratt had been one of the VIPs sitting next to Dr Verwoerd during the opening of the exposition. Pratt, who claimed he had been shooting 'the epitome of apartheid', was eventually declared ‘mentally disordered and epileptic'. On 26 September 1960, he was committed to Pretoria Central Prison to 'await indication of the Governor General's pleasure'. On 1 October 1961, he hanged himself at Bloemfontein Mental Hospital.[12]

Solidifying the regime

In 1961, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld stopped over in South Africa and subsequently stated that he had been unable to reach agreement with Prime Minister Verwoerd.[13] On 6 November 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, condemning South African apartheid policies. On 7 August 1963, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 181 calling for a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa, and in the same year, a Special Committee Against Apartheid was established to encourage and oversee plans of action against the regime.[14] From 1964, the US and Britain discontinued their arms trade with South Africa.[15] Economic sanctions against South Africa were also frequently debated in the UN as an effective way of putting pressure on the apartheid government. In 1962, the UN General Assembly requested that its members sever political, fiscal and transportation ties with South Africa.[16]

1966 election and assassination

Silver medal commemorating Verwoerd's life

The National Party under Verwoerd won the 1966 general election. During this period, the National Party government continuted to foster the development of a military industrial complex, that successfully pioneered developments in native armaments manufacturing including aircraft, small arms, armored vehicles, and even nuclear and biological weapons.[17]

Three days before his death, Verwoerd had held talks with the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Chief Leabua Jonathan, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.[18] Following the meeting, a joint communique was issued by the two governments with special emphasis on "co-operation without interference in each others' internal affairs".

On 6 September 1966, Verwoerd was assassinated in Cape Town, shortly after entering the House of Assembly at 2:15 PM. A uniformed parliamentary messenger named Dimitri Tsafendas stabbed Verwoerd in the neck and chest four times before being subdued by other members of the Assembly.[19] Members who were also trained as medical practitioners rushed to the aid of Verwoerd and started administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation.[20] Verwoerd was rushed to Groote Schuur Hospital, but was declared dead upon arrival.

Tsafendas escaped the death penalty on the grounds of insanity. Judge Beyers ordered Tsafendas to be imprisoned indefinitely at the "State President's pleasure."

Verwoerd's funeral, attended by a quarter of a million people,[21] was held in Pretoria on 10 September, 1966. He was buried in the Hero's Acre in front of the Union Buildings.[22]

The still blood-stained carpet where Hendrik Verwoerd lay after the murder remained in Parliament until it was removed in 2004.[23][24]

The town of Orania in the Northern Cape province houses the Verwoerd collection – memorabilia collected during Dr Verwoerd’s lifetime and now on display in the house where his widow lived for the last years before her death in 2001.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Beyers, C.J. (1981). Dictionary of South African Biography, Vol.4, Durban: Butterworth, pp.730-40.
  2. ^ Beyers, C.J. (1981). Dictionary of South African Biography, Vol.4, Durban: Butterworth, pp.730-40
  3. ^ Joyce, P. (1999). A Concise Dictionary of South African Biography, Cape Town: Francolin, pp.275-6
  4. ^ a b Lentz, Harris M., III (1994). Heads of States and Governments. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.. pp. 451–452. ISBN 0899509266. 
  5. ^ The Apartheid Era (Part 2) - Brief History of South Africa
  6. ^ "Culture, Communication and Media Studies - Freedom Square-Back to the Future". Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  7. ^ (P 354 Encyclopaedia Britannica 1963)
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Osada, Masako (2002). Sanctions and honorary whites: diplomatic policies and economic realities in relations between Japan and South Africa. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 54.
  11. ^ Anthony Sampson, "His Cherubic Smile Seemed To Say, 'It's All So Simple". Life International, October 3, 1966
  12. ^ Famous South African Crimes - Death in Parliament: Robert Marsh
  13. ^ Feron, James (January 24, 1961). UN Chief Faces Apartheid Snag; Hammarskjöld Says He Got No Accord on Race Policies During South Africa Trip. The New York Times.
  14. ^ International Labour Office (1985). Special report of the Director-General on the application of the Declaration concerning the policy of "apartheid" of the Republic of South Africa, Volumes 17-22. International Labour Office.
  15. ^ Johnson, Shaun (1989). South Africa: no turning back. Indiana University Press. p. 323.
  16. ^ Jackson, Peter; Faupin, Mathieu (2007). The Long Road to Durban – The United Nations Role in Fighting Racism and Racial Discrimination. UN Chronicle.
  17. ^ Beinart, William (2001). Twentieth-century South Africa. Oxford University Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0192893185.
  18. ^ National University of Lesotho. Institute of Southern African Studies. Documentation and Publications Division (1966). Lesotho clippings. Documentation and Publications Division, Institute of Southern African Studies, National University of Lesotho.
  19. ^ Goodman, David; Weinberg, Paul (2002). Fault lines: journeys into the new South Africa. University of California Press. p. 154.
  20. ^ Havens, Murray Clark; Leiden, Carl; Schmitt, Karl Michael (1970). The politics of assassination. Prentice-Hall. p. 47.
  21. ^ South Africa: Death to the Architect. Time. September 16, 1966.
  22. ^ Goodman; Weinberg (2002), p. 155.
  23. ^ Leach, Graham (1986). South Africa: no easy path to peace. Routledge. p. 39.
  24. ^ Pressly, Donwald (July 28, 2004). Verwoerd carpet replaced. News24.
  25. ^

External links

Preceded by
Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom
Prime Minister of South Africa
Succeeded by
Balthazar Johannes Vorster


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (September 8, 1901September 6, 1966) was a South African politician. He is widely considered the architect of South African apartheid for his work in the National Party government in the 1950s and was Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 until he was assassinated in 1966.


The situation in Israel is sometimes compared to South African apartheid. This is completely accurate. In fact, Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, said that, "Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state," (Rand Daily Mail, 23 Nov 1961).

His quote is backed up by several Israeli government and military officials, like former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, who wrote, "In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That regime exists to this day."

Shulamit Aloni, former minister of education in Israel, wrote, "Through its army, the government of Israel practices a brutal form of apartheid in the territory it occupies."

This view is echoed even by those familiar with both apartheid and Israel. Ronnie Kasrils, a Jewish South African who headed military intelligence for the armed wing of the African National Congress and who is now his country's intelligence minister, concluded from a 2004 West Bank visit that the Israeli system is more brutal than the South African one. "This is much worse than apartheid," he said. "We never had jets attacking our townships ... We had armored vehicles and police using small arms to shoot people, but not on this scale."

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