Verwoerd, Dr. Hendrik French

Dr H F VerwoerdDr Hendrik French Verwoerd was born in Amsterdam in Holland in 1901 and was two years old when his parents came to South Africa in 1903.

Verwoerd was the 6th Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa and during his term of office South Africa became a Republic.

After leaving the Netherlands the family had its first house in Cape Town and then moved to Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Initially the young Verwoerd went to a Lutheran School in Cape Town, and in Bulawayo attended Milton High School where he was awarded with the Beit Bursary.

In 1917 the Verwoerd family moved back to South Africa and settled in the small town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State.

Starting in 1919 Verwoerd studied at the University of Stellenbosch, and served on the Student Council with Betsie Schoeman in 1922. The two were married later. Verwoerd was a brilliant student and his seniors and peers noted his leadership. At the end of 1921 he obtained the BA-degree (cum laude) and his Masters degree (cum laude) in 1922. He went ahead with his doctorate and became chairman of the Students Council.

In 1924, his final year at university, he was promoted to doctor in Philosophy including Psychology as study field. By then he was a lecturer.

The bright young Verwoerd won two bursaries but accepted the smaller of the two, as he was sure that the Germans offer a better proposition for research opportunities. He arrived in Germany in 1925 and studied at the universities of Leipzig, Hamburg and Berlin. He got married in Hamburg, Germany, and the couple then toured Europe and left for the USA where he did some more research.

At the age of 26 he became the first professor in Sociology at his alma mater.

In 1934 is Verwoerd joined other leaders at the National Congress regarding the Poor-white problems facing the Afrikaans-speaking peoples of South Africa, and in 1937 he became Editor of Die Transvaler, the new daily of the Nationalist Party. By means of his editorials he reached his people and made a point of promoting the republican ideal. Economically he “trained” the Afrikaners regarding the three weapons: Capital strength, working-power and spending-power. On 31 December 1948 Verwoerd left as Editor as he was elected as Senator in July. He rose from backbencher to key minister in two years.

In 1950 he became Minister of Native Affairs in Dr Malan’s cabinet, and he strongly worked towards the deal of separate freedom – a free republic of justice for all remained the main aim.

Verwoerd was elected Prime Minister on 2 September 1958, and the gist of his first message, as leader was that he accepts his election as a call to do his duty.. to uphold with honour the democratic institutions of the country .. and .. justice between white and non-white. Verwoerd, in response to foreign criticism, reformulated the Apartheid policy “separate development,” meaning physical segregation of the races. The refinement of apartheid can be assigned to him as he strongly pushed the separate nations theory. He argued that contact between groups would hinder their evolution into nationhood. His willingness to guide Africans to self-determination once he considered them ready won him the many new white supporters. He dismissed protests to apartheid policies.

The referendum

On 3 February 1960 British Prime Minister, Mr Harold Macmillan, delivered his famous “winds of change-speech” before the joint session of the Union Parliament. 5 October 1960 was significant for the future of South Africa. A referendum regarding a Republic for SA was held. The Yes vote won with a majority of 74,580 votes – 90,73% votes were cast.

Verwoerd led the nation to become a republic. On 15 May 1961 in London, at the meeting of the Commonwealth, Verwoerd announced that South Africa withdraw its membership. South Africa became a republic on 31 May 1961.

He was widely criticised by the English press but had a substantial number of English-speaking followers and succeeded in building the South African white community into a cohesive unit. The black community considered him as the father of Apartheid.

Dimitri Tsafendas murdered him in parliament on 6 September 1966. The former Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith, referred to him in a speech and said “To those who knew him personally, and I count myself as one of those who had this privilege, his deep sincerity in everything he undertook, his gentleness and his kindness towards all people, his championing of civilised and Christian ideals, and his wise counsels in times of peace and adversity will be greatly missed.”