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Dr Verwoerd And His Contribution To South Africa History Essay


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Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd a man who contributed to the existence of today's South Africa, whether it was good or bad. He's actions is still spoken of and the result thereof is felt by many South Africans. In his time he was a great leader to his people and has surely contributed to their development, but at the detriment of others. He was a controversial leader who wasn't easily influenced by others and one who meticulously planned his actions and a person who enjoyed life but above all his drive came from the urge to develop his country, South Africa. Verwoerd as a person is described as noble man with integrity, a hard working perfectionist and as statesman, the architect of apartheid, hated by anti-apartheid activist, feared by his rivalries and a hero to his "White Brothers or the Broeder Bond". Many leaders are faced with various challenges and Verwoerd was surely a leader who overcame them and he is being described as the statesman of his era (Grobbelaar, 1967). The developed countries at the time criticized his actions but on the contrary I think that his influence came from their ideology. In this essay I will highlight Verwoerd's life as a student, his influences, his life as a statesman and his leadership throughout his career.

Hendrik (Henk) Verwoerd's Childhood

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd was born on 8 September 1901 in Amsterdam. His parents were Wilhelm Verwoerd and Anje Strik. His father Wilhelm was a strong supporter of Paul Kruger and he also served on a committee that assisted the Boers in Netherlands who were looking for aid in order to fight Britain in South Africa. Three months after Hendrik's birth the Verwoerds migrated to South Africa where they settled in Wynberg, Cape Town. Hendrik went to an English school in Wynberg and at the age of nine the Verwoerd's moved to Rhodesia where he lived till the age of fourteen. Hendrik had no difficulty adapting to his new environment and won a scholarship in standard seven. However his father decided to move back to South Africa and when Hendrik's principle asked him why he wanted to move to that nest of rebels, he replied that he liked the Freestaters, his principle literally kicked him (Hepple, 1967: 12-16). Already at an early age Hendrik showed traits of being energetic, assertive and alert to his social environment. He was also very intellectual and self confident. Furthermore when he was in matric, he was ambitious and achievement orientated because he would shut himself from his family and friends to study. He saw himself to become a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church (Hepple, 1967: 15). In 1918 in his final matric exam Hendrik gained first place in his province and fifth in South Africa (Grobbelaar, 1967:15).

The University Student

During his life as a student many of his leadership skills and traits prevailed while he was studying. He enrolled as a theology student at the University of Stellenbosch in 1919 and had many accolades and achievements during his student life. In 1921 he was given the B.A. degree in theology, cum laude and in 1923 he graduated as M.A. cum laude in psychology. He completed his doctorate at the end of 1924 and was the first to write his thesis in Afrikaans and without supplementary study abroad. However above his academic achievements he was also elected a chairman of the Philosophical Society, the Debating Society and the Student Council in 1922. Verwoerd's leadership style was not politically motivated although his thinking was that of an anti-British Afrikaner. One of the most significant events in 1922 was the labour strikes of white Afrikaners where more than two hundred people were killed. The event was also the discussion point of the student council where they expressed their dismay towards the Smuts government. Verwoerd did not inherit a sense of past oppression like his fellow Afrikaner students but he related to them because he identified himself as an Afrikaner (Hepple, 1967).

Verwoerd the Career Man

After completing his doctors degree Verwoerd received a bursary to further his studies in Britain. He declined the offer and continued his studies in psychology and sociology at the universities of Hamburg, Leipzig and Berlin (Hepple, 1967). Verwoerd was accompanied by his friend, Elizabeth (Betsie) Schoombee whom he had also married during his stay in Germany. At the age of twenty six Verwoerd received an offer from the University of Stellenbosch as Professor of Applied Psychology, which he accepted. He and his wife Betsie moved to Stellenbosch without a cent in their pockets and started a new life in South Africa. During Verwoerd's stay in Germany the country was in turmoil and the author P.W. Grobbelaar portray an image that Verwoerd's ideology was influenced by the Germans. However I tend to disagree because A. Hepple indicates that there was no real motivation for him to study in Germany and tried to look at different reasons why he chose Germany but the authors are forgetting that Verwoerd was an Anti-British Afrikaner and thus, "why should he study in Britain when Germany is offering an equal quality of education?" One of the reasons why he was in favour of Germany could have been that Germany at the time was the opposition of Britain and he felt closer to their cause than with the British imperialism. It should also be noted that he chose to go to Germany during the time of the Weimar republic, long before Hitler took over, and that German universities were at that stage far more renowned than most English universities. For example, in the first few decades of the 20th century Germany got far more of the Nobel prizes in physics, medicine etc. than any other country.

The Turning Point

Hendrik Verwoerd's master plan of racial division started when he was appointed as chairman of the Chair of Sociology and Social Work in 1933. After the war many whites were unemployed and the problem further increased with the collapse of the 1929 Wall Street boom. South Africa was one of the countries that were the hardest hit by the great depression. After the Anglo Boer War many Afrikaans whites settled in the rural areas but after the war they were forced to move to the cities in search of jobs. Although the problem of the poor whites referred to both English -and Afrikaans whites, Verwoerd's racial thinking already distinguished between the two races. He's main purpose was to alleviate and eradicate poverty amongst the Afrikaner volk but could not make this publicly because his research funding was from American and European countries whom supported the investigation of white poverty. The Carnegie Corporation of New York financed the "Poor White Commission" who investigated the poor white problem and that had to come up with recommendations as well (Hepple, 1976). The committee found that the influx of black workers was due to heavy taxes that forced black tribesmen to migrate and find work in the mines. Verwoerd proposed that the influx of immigrant workers should be restricted in order to create more opportunities for the whites. His racial theories seemed to be the solution to resolving the poor white problem in South Africa. Although Verwoerd was opposed against the parlance of Whites such as "kaffer op sy plek en koelie uit die land", his own ideology of taking the jobs from the blacks to give to the whites were not different from his Broederbond (Hepple, 1976). Verwoerd did exactly the same but as he would describe it as tactical and educational way of dealing with the problem.

Verwoerd's ideas of racial division or apartheid for the development of the Afrikaners in South Africa became the policy of the Nationalist Government when it began to rule in 1948 (Hepple, 1967:32).

The Editor

The Nationalist Party under the leadership of D.F. Malan saw the need to establish a newspaper in order to spread their racist ideologies and propaganda to the people of Transvaal who by now have become predominantly Afrikaner. In 1934 Malan offered Verwoerd editorship of the newspaper and without any doubt he accepted the offer. Although at this stage there wasn't sufficient funding for the paper Malan raised enough funds and by the end of 1935 he formed the Voortrekker Pers Beperk. The Nationalist Party now had two influential Afrikaans newspapers to spread their ideologies, Die Burger in Cape Town and the Volksblad in Transvaal (Hepple, 1976).

Verwoerd on the other hand saw this opportunity as a stepping stone to promote his own political career. He could now reach a bigger audience to share his vision of a free, sovereign and an independent Republic. Verwoerd knew that the editorship was a means of active participation in politics and a platform to reach the Afrikaners (Barnard, 1967). Verwoerd's appointment as editor wasn't accepted by everyone in the Nationalist Party. In fact J.G. Strijdom who was the successor of Malan opposed his appointment. Strijdom and other Nationalists embraced the idea of Tielman Roos whose vision was also to see South Africa become a Republic but they failed to turn the ideal into tangible reality. Verwoerd was inspired by the Roos's ideology and knew that the opposition in his own party disagreed with his plan to try and make South Africa a Republic. He believed that a "majority is a majority" and disagreed with the others who believed that the ideology of a republic could not be forced unto everyone. They did however agree that a Republic should be achieved by constitutional and democratic means (Barnard, 1967).

Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd the Politician

In 1948 Verwoerd resigned as editor of the Transvaler and pursuit his political career. Verwoerd soon became one of the new senators of Transvaal after the Herenigde Nasionale Party (H.N.P.) won the elections under the leadership of Dr. D.F. Malan. Verwoerd's first speech in parliament on 3 September 1948, he spoke about his ideology of separate development for the citizens of South Africa. He explained and analysed the apartheid system "step by step", for him apartheid was the only way for the country to prosper and the only hope for Afrikaners (Grobbelaar, 1967).

According to his plan of segregation, the Africans should stay in the Bantu states and the whites in South Africa. Blacks could work in white areas but had no political right or whatsoever outside the Bantu states and the whites should remain in the "White man's country". It was an ideology of "White baasskap", a plan to exploit the blacks for the economical welfare of the Afrikaners in South Africa (Grobbelaar, 1976). Basically blacks had no right and they were only allowed in white areas to work but other than that they had to stay in the demarcated areas that were identified for them by Verwoerd.

Minister of Native Affairs (The Chief of Mischief)

19 October 1950, Verwoerd was made Minister of Native Affairs and he was impressed with his newly appointed status, he called himself the "Groot Indoena", chief of chiefs. He was now the ruler of the country's largest population, nearly four-fifths of the population (Hepple, 1967:10). By the powers vested in him he ruled all the Africans in South Africa and under the Administration Act, he could rule by proclamation (Hepple, 1997). He had the power to issue governing regulations on Africans and to outlaw any African organisation including trade unions that he felt was threatening the Afrikaner rule. Malan felt that Verwoerd was the right man for the job because the Nationalist Party needed someone with his ability and sense of urgency to put apartheid into action. The opposition parties were looking anxiously upon them to see whether the apartheid system would work and Verwoerd was always ready to explain every action to the last detail (Hepple, 1967). At this point in time Verwoerd received many criticisms from opposition parties and even his own people; however he did not take it lying down. In order to prove to anti-apartheid activist from the opposition parties that the blacks accepted the idea of apartheid he for example fabricated a poem about himself. The poem was in the first issue of the "Bantu", a newspaper for blacks, the poem read; "Dr Verwoerd, thou art the Shepherd of the black races, Thou art the defender of the Bantu, our rock, our mountain...." (Hepple,1967:108). His opposition were outraged by this poem however his reply was that the poem was published without his consent and it was a reflection of the blacks' appreciation for what he did to them. Teachers in black schools were disgsted by this portrayal of Verwoerd because the phrases that were used in this poem are synonymous with the description of sacredness that they though the students at school. The poem portrayed an image of Verwoerd being praised by the black people; it looked like the words of "a black man in his ingratiating ode to a white master." (Hepple, 1967:109).

Verwoerd and his secretary of Native Affairs, Dr. Willi Max Eiselen shared the same ideologies about black people. Dr. Eiselen was an anthropologist and university friend of Verwoerd. Their image of blacks was that blacks were tribal people (Hepple, 1967). The white children in school were thought that blacks were not human but they were above animals in the eyes of God.

Putting his Apartheid Plan into Action

Verwoerd saw a matter of urgency to implement the apartheid plan and his strategy was to enforce the apartheid system by means of strict laws and regulations. Given the fact that in his authority he ruled by proclamation he could implement laws on Natives as and when he felt like it. This is not correct. He could make proclamations under existing laws, but new laws had to go through parliament. As Minister of Native Affairs Verwoerd and the Nationalists implemented many laws and here are just some examples of them and a brief explanation of what the purpose was;

The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 - this law gave the various chiefs authority to rule their own people and act as agents for the white government. Verwoerd used Mau-Mau in Kenya as an example and said that South Africa chiefs should follow his example of tribalism and assisting the white government (Hepple, 1976:116).

The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 - this act was implemented to ban any organisation that the government found to be influenced or inspired by communism to be outlawed. The act was used as a tool to ban any opposition or anti apartheid movement in South Africa (Hepple, 1967).

Criminal Laws Amendment Act of 1953 - under this law Verwoerd assured that no opposition would be able to oppose the government's decisions in any way without finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. Oppositions ended up being either banned or banished (Hepple, 1967)

The Bantu Education Act of 1955 - this act gave the government lots of authority over black schools including political power. The act prohibited anti-apartheid activities on schools and allowed for students to be suspended if they participated in such activities. Verwoerd dictated education of blacks and this eminent in one of his speeches, "I will reform it so that Natives will be taught from childhood to realize that equality with Europeans is not for them.... racial relations cannot improve if the wrong type of education is given to Natives. They cannot improve if the result of Native education is the creation of a frustrated people... who have expectations in life which circumstances in South Africa don not allow to be fulfilled... (Hepple, 1976:124)"

The Native Labour Relations Act - black workers could not enjoy the same labour rights as their white counterparts. Under this law it was determined that blacks not be equally treated as white workers in the workplace, this simply meant black workers had no rights and had to follow whatever his white "Baas" had order them to do. The act was an enactment of the Master and Servant Act (Hepple, 1967).

The Natives Act - under the Natives Act the abolition of passes and coordination of documents were determined. Commonly known as die "Die Dompass Wet", requested that blacks should wear their Pass at all times and on request they should produce it. In the event that you didn't had your Pass then you could be detained and send to the Bantu states (Hepple, 1967).

The Urban Areas Act - Under this act Verwoerd was able to override any decision made by local officials. He had total control over what the blacks could and could not do; he could outlaw any organisation that he did not feel comfortable with. As in relations with all the other acts, Verwoerd has given himself legitimate power to extend his apartheid ideology (Hepple, 1967).

Verwoerd assured that the vision of "Afrikanerdom" was fulfilled by making sure that the needs of the Afrikaners were met as he had promised them. By means of legislations and tactful strategies he increased white employment, produced cheap black labour and introduced total segregation. The eight years of Verwoerd administration were like a living hell for Africans and it increased the mood of rebellion amongst Africans (Hepple, 1967).

Prime Minister Verwoerd

Verwoerd became the sixth prime minister of South Africa on 2 September 1958, after Strijdom passed away after fighting a serious illness. International newspapers described the new president of the Union of South Africa as a man who advocates "White Supremacy" and one who ruled as a dictator (Grobbelaar, 1967). It was however said that Verwoerd's Broederbond nationalism could be related to Hitlers National socialism. They were anti-semitic, violent and racist inspired (Hepple, 1967).

Nevertheless Verwoerd's principles were based on Christianity and a democratic rule whereby the interest of the minority group would be protected. The day Verwoerd was elected president of South Africa he saw himself as the "God-chosen leader" (Hepple, 1967). The evening of election he made a speech to South Africa and highlighted the following; Good relations with foreign countries and the rest of Africa, Colour policy on the basis of separate development, The unification of Afrikaans -and English whites in South Africa, to make South Africa a Republic and to continue the development in all other aspects (Grobbelaar, 1967). Verwoerd delivered on all his promises and remained arrogant about apartheid despite internal and international pressure to abolish the system. The premiership position for Verwoerd was a continuation of his previous position however he did not had to wait for decisions to made, "he made them himself".

In October 1958 he announced his new cabinet; it consisted of a younger generation who shared his values and members of the Broederbond. His old department were split into two, the Department of Bantu Administration and Development and the Department of Bantu Education (Hepple, 1967).

On the 31 May 1961, South Africa became a Republic as Verwoerd has promised his white voters and as they were celebrating, the non-white organisations in South Africa planned a protest. Many protesters were arrested and later freed in March the same year. Verwoerd reacted by implementing the General Law Amendment Act, authorising detainees to be detained for twelve days without bail (Hepple, 1967). Anti-apartheid organisations stood no change because as soon as they did something Verwoerd would react by implementing new laws. At this point in time the resistance against the apartheid government got violent and it proved that Verwoerd's plan of separate development was opposed by many non-whites. Verwoerd in his arrogant manner introduced the Sabotage Act in order to put persons under house arrest and this extreme policy was a reflection of his dictatorship. In 1963 he enacted another Sabotage Law, the General Law Amendment Act of 1963, this law gave special police forces the ultimate power to detain and torture opposition members. Verwoerd did not let the resistance change any of his plans for separate development and continued to prove his ability as a leader to remain on course with his plans. He made it clear that he would not change his colour policies and that he would fight with arms to retain his position (Hepple, 1967). Verwoerd's secret to his was success was "his ability to give his visions a semblance of reality by devising laws and regulations to suit their intention (Hepple, 1967:186)".

Verwoerd's career came to an end after the second assassination attempt on his life on 6 September 1966 he was stabbed to death by Dimitry Tsafendas in the House of Assembly. The first assassination attempt however was on 16 April 1960 when he was shot in the face by David Pratt during the opening ceremony of the Rand Easter Show at Milner Park in Johannesburg. He miraculously survived the incident (Barnard, 1967).


Supporters of the Verwoerd regime describe him as "God-chosen, the greatest Western leader of their time, the savior of white civilization, the Joshua who led his people into the Promised Land (Hepple, 1967:199)". Indeed he kept his promises and led the Afrikaners to a prosperous and wealthy life even though it was at the detriment of the blacks. Verwoerd saw his separate development plan as a way to develop South Africa and in line with the other development policies of the time. He thought that there was nothing wrong with apartheid the apartheid system. Instead of oppressing members of his own race like so many other countries did at the time threw capitalism, he used the black South Africans. However his perception of blacks being inhuman and not equal to the rest of the human race did not justify his principles of Christianity but on the other hand he cared a lot for his own people. Nevertheless looking back no explanation could justify Verwoerd's actions but surely one could say that if the measurement of a countries wealth is based on economic wellbeing and no matter how the countries achieve it then there was nothing wrong with Verwoerd's actions. Throughout the history of mankind hegemony has always been the best development system for some people and no matter how or what one does it will always be at the detriment of another. If Verwoerd was a capitalist and left half of the Afrikaners poor would he have been seen as one of the worst leaders ever or a hero in today's societies?

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