Birthday: September 8, 1901
Nationality: South African
Died At Age: 64
Sun Sign: Virgo
Also Known As: Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd
Born Country: Netherlands
Born in: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Famous as: Politician
Spouse/Ex-: Betsie Schoombie (m. 1927)
father: Wilhelmus Johannes Verwoerd
mother: Anje Strik
siblings: Leendert, Lucie
Died on: September 6, 1966
place of death: Cape Town, South Africa
Cause of Death: Assassination
Notable Alumni: Stellenbosch University
education: Stellenbosch University
Who was Hendrik Verwoerd?
Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd was a Dutch-born South African politician, who served as the prime minister of the Union of South Africa for around three years. He was also a sociologist and a journalist. He announced the founding of the Republic of South Africa in 1961 and became the country’s prime minister. He held this position till he was assassinated after five years by Dimitri Tsafendas. Known to be an authoritarian and socially conservative leader, he was an Afrikaner nationalist. He attempted to transform apartheid into a tool for entrenchment of white domination. He even used to call apartheid a "policy of good neighbourliness", and most of his decisions made in the areas of law enforcement and public policies ended up making the non-white population of the country suffer from discrimination due to their skin color. Apartheid had existed way before Verwoerd came to office, but he helped it gain a legal and theoretical ground, which led him to be known as the ‘Architect of Apartheid’. He was assassinated in September 1966 by Dimitri Tsafendas.
Childhood & Early Life
Hendrik Verwoerd was born in Amsterdam on 8th September 1901. His parents were Wilhelmus Johannes Verwoerd and Anje Strik. He had two siblings, Lucie and Leendert. His father, who was a shopkeeper, decided to move to South Africa in 1903, along with the family.
He attended a Lutheran primary school in Wynberg, Cape Town, and later studied at Milton High School, when his family moved to Rhodesia. He was very proficient in English literature and received the top marks in the subject in the entire Rhodesia.
He later went on to study theology at the University of Stellenbosch. He had a nearly photographic memory and was regarded as one of the university’s best students. He used to participate in other activities as well, such as hiking, theatre and debate.
Hendrik Verwoerd earned his MA in philosophy and psychology, after which he went to Germany on a scholarship and studied at the University of Hamburg, Berlin and Leipzig.
He eventually returned to Stellenbosch University in South Africa, after which he occupied the chair of the department of applied psychology and psycho technique. He became a professor of sociology and social work after some years.
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During the Great Depression, Hendrik Verwoerd got involved in social work to help the poor white population of South Africa. He devoted a lot of time in welfare work and was associated with a few welfare organizations. A few years later, he was made the editor of ‘Die Transvaler,’ a national newspaper that was based in Johannesburg.
After the general elections in 1948, the National Party came to power, and Verwoerd’s contribution that had led the party to its success was recognized and appreciated.
Soon, he was elected to the senate and made the leader of the ruling party. After two years, he entered the cabinet and was made minister of native affairs under Prime Minister Malan.
Prime Minister of South Africa
Hendrik Verwoerd was appointed as the new prime minister after his victory in the 1958 elections, assuming office on 2 September 1958. His first focus was the creation of a republic, as it was one of the long-term goals of the National Party since it had come to power. He announced in January 1960 that a referendum would be called in order to determine this issue.
Harold Macmillan, then British Prime Minister, visited South Africa shortly after Verwoerd’s announcement. In his address to both houses of parliament, he made a famous speech criticizing apartheid. Shortly after, there was an attempt to assassinate him, which he managed to survive.
The parliament accepted the 1960 South Africa referendum. On 31st May, the country left the Commonwealth, and the Republic of South Africa came into existence. After South Africa became a republic, Hendrik Verwoerd wouldn’t accept black ambassadors from the Commonwealth states and also tried to block non-whites from representing the country in sports.
Political organizations which were dominated by blacks were also banned under his rule, and Nelson Mandela, a young black political activist, was prosecuted for sabotage in the Rivonia Trial. Mandela was arrested in 1964, and he was kept imprisoned for 27 years.
Verwoerd became known as the architect of apartheid for playing a major role in implementing policies that gave a legal and theoretical ground to apartheid. The apartheid policies were condemned by the United Nations, though it didn’t make any impact. The United Kingdom and the United States discontinued their arms trade with South Africa in 1964, and further pressure was put on the government of the country.
The National Party won the general elections again in 1966, under Hendrik Verwoerd. However, Verwoerd was assassinated after a few months, as he was entering the House of Assembly on 6 September 1966. A parliamentary messenger Dimitri Tsafendas stabbed him in the neck and chest multiple times. Though Verwoerd was rushed to the Groote Schuur Hospital, he was pronounced dead upon arrival.
He was buried in the Heroes’ Acre. His state funeral was attended by over a quarter of a million people.
Dimitri Tsafendas managed to escape the death penalty on grounds of being mentally unbalanced, but he was ordered to be put in prison indefinitely. He spent the rest of his life in prison till his death in 1999.
Family & Personal Life
Hendrik Verwoerd married Betsie Schoombie in 1927. The couple had seven children. They remained together till his death in 1966.