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The Man Who Killed Apartheid
THE MAN WHO KILLED APARTHEID
THE LIFE OF DIMITRI TSAFENDAS
HARRIS DOUSEMETZIS with GERRY LOUGHRAN
ISBN 978 1 4314 2754 3
“When you do a good thing, you can’t go around advertising it. You do it because it is the right thing to do, not to be applauded by the others. Do a good thing and then throw it into the sea … I believed it was my duty to do it when I had the chance and I did it.”
This sums up the argument advanced by Dimitri Tsafendas as he rationalised his killing of Apartheid architect Dr HF Verwoerd on 6 September 1966 in Parliament where he worked as a messenger.
From that fateful day onwards, the regime’s apparatchiks worked flat out to portray Tsafendas as a lunatic with a history of mental health episodes.
Their PR machine was designed to churn out the narrative that it was implausible for any sane man to want to kill the much loved Verwoerd.
They punted it for so long that they ended up believing their own lie; from the time they prepared their heads of argument in court, throughout Tsafendas’ long incarceration - both in prisons like Robben Island and his ultimate home, the Sterkfontein mental hospital, until his death.
This book, the result of meticulous research, shines a particular spotlight on the comedy of errors that was the State’s case against the assassin.
Contrary to existing facts confronting them, the Apartheid authorities willed their political conscience to believe that Tsafendas was a mad man. All this despite his obvious political pedigree and human rights record in his native Mozambique, Portugal and the capitals of the world he visited in his early life.
Tsafendas was a political animal, not a quirk of fate. His plan “to kill Apartheid” was not a spur of the moment act of a loony but the deliberate and patriotic duty of a man committed to the freedom of his fellow men.
He abhorred Nazism and considered Verwoerd Adolf Hitler’s best student, vermin to be exterminated.
The authors have done South African history a good turn with this offering, well enough to lodge an appeal with the Minister of Justice Michael Masutha to re-evaluate the assassination and declare it a political killing and Tsafendas a freedom fighter, not a lunatic.
On 23 April 23 2018, a formal petition signed by legal hawks Advocates George Bizos and Dumisa Ntsebeza, retired Constitutional Court Judge Zak Yacoob, Krish Govender and Professor John Dugard was submitted to the Justice Minister to officially reconsider the historical significance of the Verwoerd assassination:
“The death of Prime Minister HF Verwoerd on 6 September 1966 was no doubt a significant event in the history of South Africa and one that would have long term consequences for the people of South Africa. Dr. Verwoerd was killed by Dimitri Tsafendas, a Portuguese national of Greek descent, in the House of Assembly at a time when Tsafendas was employed there as a messenger. At the trial of Tsafendas in the Cape Supreme Court he was found unfit to stand trial on the ground that he suffered from schizophrenia. The Court found that Tsafendas had no political motive for killing Verwoerd. These conclusions were confirmed by a subsequent Commission of Enquiry. Arising out of this, Tsafendas was declared a State President’s patient and was detained first in prison, then in a mental institution until his death in 1999. For most of his incarceration he was subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment by the prison authorities. He died a sad and lonely death in a mental institution. There were understandable reasons why it was in the interests of the apartheid regime not to seriously dispute that Mr. Tsafendas was schizophrenic and to ignore weighty evidence that he was not mentally ill, but that Mr. Tsafendas’s actions were in fact wholly politically motivated. First, the apartheid regime wished to have people believe that no sane person could kill or even want to kill an outstanding leader as Verwoerd was projected to be. Second, the Minister of Justice and Police, John Vorster, would have been embarrassed that a Communist who had made his strong opposition to apartheid publicly known, passed the security clearance that allowed him to work as a messenger in the House of Assembly and gave him the opportunity to kill Verwoerd. To avoid accountability for this lapse in security, it would have been considered wiser for Vorster and the National Party to portray Tsafendas as an insane person. Third, a full-blown criminal trial would have had the inevitable effect of placing the national and international spotlight on the excesses of the system of apartheid – something the regime of the day would have preferred to avoid. Consequently, the apartheid regime embarked on a cover-up in which the trial, subsequent Commission of Enquiry and media were carefully orchestrated to present Tsafendas as an insane person. This succeeded to a large measure as the dominant discourse that emerged and still prevails is that Mr. Tsafendas was mentally ill and his actions were not even remotely political. It is equally understandable that Mr. Tsafendas adopted the correct strategy in which he too feigned insanity. Otherwise he would undoubtedly been sentenced to death.”
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