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Verwoerd My Journey through Family Betrayals
VERWOERD: MY JOURNEY THROUGH FAMILY BETRAYALS
ISBN: 9 780624 088189
Perhaps the greatest injustice meted out to the memory of Dimitri Tsafendas has not been the physical blows rained on him by the Apartheid security police and his subsequent jailers after he assassinated Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd in Parliament, Cape Town.
Those who have done him more harm are his own family, who quickly went to ground and disavowed him as kin after the historic incident on 6 September 1966.
Tsafendas was treated worse than a leper, kept in solitary confinement under conditions that moved even the late Prime Minister’s widow, Betsie Verwoerd, to confess that it was inhumane.
The revisionists began work immediately after the fatal stabbing to relegate the heroic and blatantly political act of Verwoerd’s killing as the work of a lunatic until the very end, when he died, lonely and unwanted, at Sterkfontein Hospital, a mental asylum in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, on 7 October 1999.
He was 81.
On the other end of the assassination spectrum, those who supported Verwoerd, the architect of Apartheid, never stopped extolling his virtues. Anyone newly arrived on Earth from Mars would have sworn Verwoerd was a genius, as evinced by the praise heaped on him by those like late newspaper editor Allister Sparks who in May 2015 said the racist bigot was a smart politician.
Now his grandson, Wilhelm Verwoerd, not exactly borrowing from the Sparks book of eulogies, details in his own book titled Verwoerd: My Journey through Family Betrayals how he’s always been caught between the proverbial rock and hard place almost his entire adult life.
His own father, a retired Stellenbosch geologist - the son of HF Verwoerd, says to Wilhelm: “You are a traitor to the Afrikaner people. And to your grandfather.”
Now, those are strong words that should not pass between father and son.
But Wilhelm has made his [political] bed and intends to lie on it.
But his bloodline to HF Verwoerd is a matter that has not given him piece from the time he got to understand the pain wrought by Apartheid on other people, especially black South Africans.
He grapples with a niggling worry that has, miraculously, escaped the collective conscience of many Afrikaner Christians who worshipped at the NG Kerk - the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, the church famously described as “The National Party at prayer”.
“I don't often speak about it, but there was a strong dimension of faith and religion within the Afrikaner community and within the family I grew up in. When I was confronted with what was really going on in apartheid, the biggest challenge for me was at the level of faith. How could I be a member of a church justifying this system? How could I call myself a Christian when this is what we are doing to fellow Christians?”
From an early age, he agonises over how little he knows of the country of his birth, thanks to the half truths preached to him growing up: “I got a distinction in history in matric - for studying half of my country’s history.”
The chance to study in the Netherlands, which was intended to be in transit to England, opens his eyes. He reads Biko for the first time while in Holland.
He takes up the opportunity to go meet with the then banned ANC in Lusaka, Zambia.
He is a tormented man who bears ambivalent feelings towards his grandfather, the hero in the eyes of those like his father, and the larger Afrikaner community.
But he fails to harmonise the picture of this great man and leader in the psyche of the Afrikaner, the doting grandfather who fed him bottled milk as a toddler with that of the monster that represented so much suffering and anguish in the lives of blacks.
A man of letters and a devout Christian, Wilhelm follows his heart - and joins the ANC, “the enemy” in the vocabulary of his people.
There have been Beyers Naude and Bram Fischer before him, ostracised by their own volk for standing on the side of the oppressed.
Luckily for Wilhelm, he has not suffered the indignity of prison like Naude and Fischer for having the courage of their convictions.
He’s only lost a father.
“Wilhelm, I am very unhappy about your criticism of Pa’s policy. It was not evil! That criticism is part of the communist propaganda to which you were exposed as a student. Politically you are still misguided. Just look around you at what is happening today. And why don’t you also condemn the farm murders?”
“I blame you for putting your mother and me again in this position, where she has to choose between husband and son …”
This was after Wilhelm had accepted the invitation to speak at a ceremony to remove the plaque commemorating the apartheid leader from the commerce building of the University of Stellenbosch.
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