Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd is remembered as the architect of the racist laws and segregation practice known as ‘grand apartheid’.
HF Verwoerd was born 8 September 1901 in Amsterdam, Holland. His father was a shopkeeper and a deeply religious man. The family moved to South Africa in 1903 and settled for ten years before moving to Rhodesia where Verwoerd senior became an assistant evangelist in the Dutch Reformed Church. After four years they returned to South Africa.
Pampering, levelling and living together
Verwoerd excelled at school and went on to obtain a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch. He continued his studies in psychology in Germany after which he returned home in 1927 to lecture at his old university. He was appointed Professor of Sociology and Social Work. In 1937 he became editor of ‘Die Transvaler’, an Afrikaans newspaper supporting the National Party (NP). He was strongly in favour of racial segregation and attacked the ruling United Party’s policy of ‘pampering, levelling and living together’. In 1938 he published a poster condemning mixed marriages. During World War Two ‘Die Transvaler’ adopted a pro-Nazi position.
Hewers of wood
In 1948 when the National Party led by D.F. Malan came into power, Verwoerd left his position as editor to represent the NP in the Senate. In 1950 he was appointed Minister of Native Affairs and was responsible for the displacement of some 80,000 black Africans. As part of his portfolio, he was in charge of African education where his policy limited any form of higher education for those he regarded as ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’.
HF Verwoerd became Prime Minister of South Africa in 1958 on the death of his predecessor JG Strijdom. He reformulated apartheid, claiming that black people were not ineligible to vote because they were inferior, but because they owed their loyalty to tribal affiliations and would be given equal political rights in their own ‘homelands’. In April 1961 Verwoerd escaped assassination when he was shot twice in the face. Five years later, on 6 September 1966, two days before his 65th birthday, a second attempt on his life proved fateful.
Verwoerd’s apartheid homeland policy was a major obstacle on the road to equality in South Africa, the ripple effects of which are still felt today.