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Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (8 September 1901 - 6 September 1966) was Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 to 1966, when he was assassinated. Unlike his predecessors, Verwoerd was not born in South Africa, but came with his parents from the Netherlands. He presided over the Sharpeville Massacre and the banning of the African National Congress and Pan-Africanist Congress, the establishment of a republic, as well as the sentencing of Nelson Mandela to life imprisonment.

Table of contents
1 Architect of Apartheid
2 A Republic
3 Assassination

Architect of Apartheid

Verwoerd, formerly Minister for 'Native Affairs', believed in 'separate development'. He believed that the black majority had no political role to play in the Republic of South Africa, as they were citizens of different countries, or 'homelands'. His government created several supposedly independent Bantustans, which he argued, were the original areas of descent for the black South African population. Mass population transfers occurred when blacks were forcibly moved out of the cities and into these areas, and many died. He also stripped the mixed race Coloureds of their right to vote, by amending an entrenched clause in the Union's Constitution. As his party did not have a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament allowing him to do this, he packed the Senate with his own appointees. Once the legislation was passed, the Senate's membership was changed back to its original size.

A Republic

During Verwoerd's term in office, South Africa became a republic in 1961. The creation of a republic was one of the National Party's cherished goals since it came to power in 1948, the opposition United Party and many English-speaking whites were against such a change. Once again, Verwoerd changed the law to his advantage. He lowered the voting age for whites to 18, and allowing whites in South West Africa (now Namibia), which was then under South African rule, to vote. On October 5, 1960, 52 per cent of white voters voted 'Yes' to a republic. However, this brought into question South Africa's Commmonwealth, which included many of South Africa's main trading partners, such as the United Kingdom. Since India had become a republic in 1950, republic status was no longer incompatible with membership, but the Commonwealth now had new Asian and African members who saw the apartheid regime's membership as an affront. Consequently, South Africa left the Commonwealth on becoming a republic, although many in the National Party welcomed this as a clean break with the colonial past.


In 1966, Verwoerd was stabbed to death in the House of Assembly by Dimitri Tsafendas , a parliamentary clerk, who escaped the death penalty on the grounds of insanity. Tsafendas was motivated by a belief that Verwoerd's government was not sufficiently racist.