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Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, often considered the architect of apartheid, was born in Amsterdam on 8 September 1901, six months before his parents moved to Wynberg, near Cape Town, South Africa. As a lay missionary in South Africa, Verwoerd's father received an assignment in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where the family lived for five years. Young Verwoerd performed well academically there and in Brandfort, Free State, South Africa, his next home. Developing a strongly anti-British political orientation in Zimbabwe, he immersed himself in Afrikaner life in Brandfort. Verwoerd completed secondary school in 1918 and proceeded to the University of Stellenbosch.

At Stellenbosch, Verwoerd was elected chair of the Students' Representative Council in 1923. He majored in sociology, psychology, and logic. After receiving his B.A., he was appointed to a position in the Psychology Department, completing his master's in 1923 and his doctorate in 1924. In 1925 Verwoerd traveled to Germany for study at Leipzig, Hamburg, and Berlin. In 1927 he and his wife, Betsie Verwoerd, returned to Stellenbosch, where he assumed a position as professor of applied sociology. Becoming chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Work in 1933 at Stellenbosch, he began to work with social welfare organizations and undertook a committee assignment on housing and unemployment focusing on the plight of poor Afrikaner whites.

Verwoerd joined the Purified Nationalist Party in 1935 as Afrikaners were attempting to unite politically and also became a member of the nativist Broederbond. He left academia to establish the Nationalist paper Die Transvaler in 1937. The major objective of Die Transvaler was to lure Afrikaners away from the British-oriented United Party and foster the idea of a Christian-National republic. During World War II, Die Transvaler adopted a pro-German stance and was opposed to South African involvement with the Allies. That stance became more explicitly anti-Semitic when Nationalists sought to limit Jewish immigration, deny Jewish citizens party membership, and discourage support for their businesses.

Despite the party's national victory in parliament, Verwoerd lost his local election by a narrow margin in 1948. However, the new prime minister, Daniel F. Malan, appointed him to the senate, and in 1950 Verwoerd became minister of native affairs. In this role, which he described to his wife as the "Great Induna," or great chief, Verwoerd reviewed and restructured the entire ministry, considered the most important in the South African cabinet, and formulated a body of apartheid legislation. On the death of J. G. Strijdom, Malan's successor, Verwoerd became prime minister in 1958.

After organizing a successful whites-only referendum to create a South African republic, Verwoerd attended the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in London in 1961. There he explored the possibility of South Africa remaining a member of the British Commonwealth. Although rebuffed by the British, Canadians, and Afro-Asian bloc because of apartheid, the prime minister received a hero's welcome when he returned to South Africa in early 1961. He had hoped for commonwealth approval of South Africa's apartheid policy given the pro-British sentiment of English-speakers in the white electorate. Afrikaner Nationalists applauded South Africa's removal from the commonwealth.

Verwoerd was assassinated on 6 September 1966, before a parliamentary session in the presence of about four hundred people. The assassin, Demetrio Tsafendas, was later tried and incarcerated in mental institutions until his death in 1999. Officially classified white, he had been born in Mozambique to a Greek father and a Coloured mother. In a 2001 book Henk van Woerden argued convincingly that the assassination was politically motivated.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Anticolonialism in Southeast Asia - Categories And Features Of Anticolonialism to Ascorbic acidApartheid - Historical Background, Rise Of Afrikaner Nationalism, Black Resistance, Apartheid Legislation, Gender Issues, Nelson Mandela