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Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (1901-1966) was the sixth prime minister of South Africa. He transformed apartheid into an effective instrument for the entrenchment of white domination.

Hendrik Verwoerd was born near Amsterdam, Holland, on Sept. 8, 1901. A few months later his parents emigrated to South Africa. He read psychology and sociology in Stellenbosch and from 1925 onward studied for a doctorate in psychology and sociology in Germany. He returned to occupy the chair of applied psychology and then of sociology and social work in Stellenbosch.

In 1934 Verwoerd was asked to organize a conference on poor whites. An assertive idealist, he viewed the poor-white question as a specifically Afrikaans problem which had to be solved by political initiatives developed in an Afrikaans framework.

A Racist View

This framework had already been defined by Die Broederbond (The League of the Brothers), an anti-African, anti-British, and anti-Semitic secret society. Founded in 1919, it labored to establish a Boer, Protestant republic and to make the Afrikaner South Africa's unquestioned master. Like Daniel Malan, Verwoerd was a Broeder.

In 1936 Malan's "purified" nationalists founded Die Transvaler, a daily published in Johannesburg, and asked Verwoerd to edit it. He campaigned for Afrikaner unity based on clearly defined principles and a Christian-National republic. He had no time for "British-Jewish" imperialism.

Like most Afrikaner nationalists, Verwoerd opposed South Africa's involvement in World War II. The prowar press charged that he had made Die Transvaler an instrument of Nazi propaganda. He sued the Johannesburg Star for making these allegations. Giving judgment against him on July 13, 1943, the presiding judge observed, "He did support Nazi propaganda, he did make his paper a tool of the Nazis in South Africa, and he knew it."

James Hertzog's followers and Malan's "purified" nationalists together formed the Herenigde Nasionale or Volksparty (HNP; Reunited National or People's party) in 1940 to accelerate movement toward the republic. Verwoerd used reunion to isolate Hertzog.

The 1948 general elections, which brought Malan to power and in which Verwoerd contested and lost the Alberton seat, were a triumph for Die Broederbond. With its leaders heading the government, it could impose its policies on the Africans and the whites. After the elections Verwoerd left Die Transvaler to take the seat Malan offered him in the Senate.

Disenfranchisement of Blacks

Verwoerd became minister of native affairs in 1950. An insensitive advocate of segregation, he wasted little time in "solving" the color problem. He abolished the institutions Hertzog had set up for the representation of the Africans and planned to slowly transform the black reservations into autonomous states (Bantustans) which would federate with South Africa. Year after year he placed before Parliament legislation to bring every aspect of the Africans' life under his control and enforce the segregation of African linguistic groups from one another.

Verwoerd developed a system designed to keep the African the intellectual inferior of the white man. All African men and women were fingerprinted and forced to carry a pass containing intimate personal details. Wholesale removals of Africans from land they owned in so-called white areas followed.

Sharpeville Massacre

Rebellions broke out in some rural reservations, and strikes and riots occurred in the main industrial areas. Verwoerd's answers to these were bans, banishments, arrests, and the enactment of increasingly harsh laws. On March 21, 1960, Mangaliso Sobukwe, president of the Pan-African Congress (PAC), called the Africans out in a nationwide protest against the Pass Laws. The police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators at Sharpeville, killing 83 and wounding 365. A state of emergency was declared, and the African National Congress (ANC) and the PAC were banned.

J. G. Strijdom, the prime minister, died in 1958, and Verwoerd succeeded him. On April 9, 1960, David Beresford Pratt fired two bullets into Verwoerd's head. He recovered to proclaim South Africa a republic outside the Commonwealth on May 31, 1961.

Demetrio Tsafendas, a purportedly "mentally unbalanced" government employee of Greek descent, stabbed and killed Verwoerd on his bench in the House of Assembly on Sept. 6, 1966.

Further Reading

Alexander Hepple, Verwoerd (1967), provides an excellent summary of Verwoerd's life and thought. Less analytical is Jan François Botha's journalistic Verwoerd Is Dead (1968), a highly readable political narrative of South Africa under Verwoerd and Vorster. Recommended for historical background are Leopold Marquard, The Peoples and Policies of South Africa (1952; 3d ed. 1962); Ndabaningi Sithole, African Nationalism (1962; 2d ed. 1968); Brian Bunting, The Rise of the South African Reich (1964; rev. ed. 1969); Pierre L. van den Berghe, South Africa: A Study in Conflict (1965); Leonard M. Thompson, Politics in the Republic of South Africa (1966); and A. Sachs, South Africa: The Violence of Apartheid (1969).

Additional Sources

Kenney, Henry, Architect of apartheid: H.F. Verwoerd, an appraisal, Johannesburg: J. Ball, 1980. □

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Verwoerd, Hendrik Frensch

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (hĕn´drək frĕnsh fərvōōrt´), 1901–66, South African political leader, b. Holland. He was taken as an infant to South Africa when his parents emigrated as missionaries. He graduated from Stellenbosch Univ. and studied further in Germany, where he came into contact with the nascent National Socialist (Nazi) party. He became (1927) professor of psychology and sociology at Stellenbosch. In 1928 he was named editor of the Transvaaler, an Afrikaans nationalist newspaper. His editorial policy reflected enmity toward the British, the Africans, and the Jews. Following a series of important posts in the Nationalist party, he became a senator (1948) and minister of native affairs (1950). In 1958 he was elected to parliament and, upon the death of J. G. Strijdom, became prime minister. A harsh proponent of white supremacy, Verwoerd, in response to foreign criticism, reformulated the apartheid policy as "separate development," meaning physical segregation of the races. When South Africa became (1961) a republic, he severed its connections with the Commonwealth of Nations. An attempt was made (1960) on his life; its failure was interpreted by Verwoerd as God's approval of his work. A second assassination attempt succeeded in Sept., 1966.

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Verwoerd, Hendrik Frensch

Verwoerd, Hendrik Frensch (1901–66) South African statesman, prime minister (1958–66), b. Holland. A vocal advocate of apartheid, he promoted the policy of “separate development” (physical separation) of the races. In 1961, Verwoerd led South Africa out of the Commonwealth of Nations. He was assassinated by a white extremist. Verwoerd was succeeded as prime minister by Johannes Vorster.

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