The word apartheid is thrown around a lot in the sphere of geopolitical debate, often to denigrate certain regimes or government policies regarding racial matters, as it is associated with the evil white man subjugating the ethnic minority whom craves freedom. However, despite the frequent use of this Afrikaans word, apartheid itself in the context of 20th century South African politics is infrequently studied in any depth. It is simply portrayed as the white man illegally in charge of the black man, or baaskap as the concept was known in the Afrikaans language. In fact, the National Party’s apartheid policies could have been legitimately interpreted as this during the immediate post-war period of the 20th century, but it was Hendrik Verwoerd, the ‘architect of apartheid’, who changed all this and found a better way to deal with the uncomfortable truths of Africa.
Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (Dr. H. F. Verwoerd) was born on 8th September 1901 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His father move the family to South Africa in 1903 due to his sympathies for the Afrikaner people after the second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). In 1912 the family moved again, this time to Bulawayo, Rhodesia, which incidentally was the hometown of Ian Smith, the last Prime Minister of Rhodesia. Hendrik Verwoerd went to Milton High School where he was awarded a scholarship, and he went on to achieve the highest marks in English literature in the whole of Rhodesia.
Verwoerd studied theology at the University of Stellenbosch, where he was regarded as a brilliant student ‘with an almost photographic memory’. He withdrew an application to further his studies in theology, but continued to study philosophy and psychology and was awarded a masters degree in 1923, and completed his doctorate in 1924. Verwoerd was offered two scholarships to continue his post-doctorate studies abroad, one with Oxford University and another to study in Germany. He opted for Germany due to his desire to work with some particularly famous German professors at the time, going on to study at Leipzig, Hamburg and Berlin for a semester each. In 1934 – six years after his return to South Africa – Dr. H. F. Verwoerd became a Professor of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Stellenbosch.
In 1950, after being elected to the senate as a National Party candidate, Hendrik Verwoerd became Minister of Native Affairs under Prime Minister Daniel Malan, a position he held until becoming Prime Minister in 1958.
One of his first projects as Minister for Native Affairs was the planning of the sites for urban townships, which were areas where ‘urbanised’ Africans would reside for work in the cities. However, his plan to ban Africans from certain urban areas brought him into conflict with Minister for Labour Ben Schoeman, with the latter arguing that Verwoerd’s policies would negatively impact that national economy. His early years as a government minister were marked with this persistent conflict with more pragmatic elements within the cabinet, which essentially became a battle between ideological apartheid and pragmatic economics.
Whilst being ideologically committed to apartheid (separation of Europeans and Africans), Verwoerd was also a realist who realised that for economic reasons, algehele gebiedskeiding (total separation) was impracticable, except he did say that ‘our people should aspire to this’. As his speeches on the matter show, he was committed in principle to the notion that the European and the African should develop separately in their own environments, including economically.
This notion of economic separation was evident in his rejection of the Tomlinson Report. This was a report commission by elements of the South African government who suffered from ‘white man’s guilt’ – the report suggested that millions of pounds generated by the white economy should be invested into African homelands. Verwoerd rejected this proposal on the grounds that the Europeans and the Africans should be able to develop sufficiently in their own economic spheres as far as possible. It is to this end that he viewed African workers in white urban areas as migrant labour, who should commute to and from the cities on a daily or weekly basis, but maintain their permanent residence in their homelands.
In 1952, 55 and 57, as Minister for Native Affairs, Verwoerd progressively tightened restrictions under the Pass Laws for African migrant workers. The key element of his reforms was the law that Africans could remain in white urban areas for no longer than 72 hours – this may seem harsh, but in the wider context of Verwoerd’s beliefs about the nature of South Africa, it makes sense. This is because his policies were shaped upon the belief that each racial group – Europeans and Africans – retained the ties to their homelands and native cultures regardless of where they may work. In order to empower the African communities to develop their own homelands and strive for self-determination, it was important that the white man stay out of the affairs of the black man and visa versa, as far as possible.
This philosophy was also evident in the education policies for Africans that Verwoerd developed. He was particularly concerned at the way that, up until that point, Africans had been forced into European-style educational systems which Verwoerd believed had initially been a political weapon used by the British to use the African against the Afrikaner. In a speech in 1954 he said the following:
“It is in the interest of the Bantu that he be educated in his own circle. He must not become a black Englishman in order to be used against the Afrikaner”.
In another speech on this issue he outlined more specifically what he envisaged in terms of education in his role of Minister for Native Affairs. Verwoerd specified that the Africans should be educated within their own communities (as should the Europeans) so that they can be fully invested in their homelands:
“It is the policy of my department that education should have its roots entirely in the native areas and in the native environment and native community. There, Bantu education must be able to give itself complete expression and there it will have to perform its real service. The Bantu must be guided to serve his own community in all respects. There is no place for him in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. Within his own community however, all doors are open. For that reason it is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim absorption in the European community while he cannot and will not be absorbed there.”
The point of Verwoerd’s argument was not that the African should be subservient to the European, but rather that each racial group has the right to an education that prepares them to make a successful existence for themselves within their own communities, which will in turn enhance those communities. He lamented the fact that, as mentioned previously, Africans had been squeezed into a mould that did not fit with their culture and heritage, therefore was not right for them.
After a short battle with what was suspected to be cancer, Prime Minister J. G. Strijdom passed away on 24th August 1958. Verwoerd was in prime position to succeed him thanks to his strong support amongst the electorate as well as his strong position within his constituency. He duly succeeded Strijdom as Prime Minister.
Under Verwoerd’s premiership, certain ‘key pillars’ of the apartheid policy were enacted. The stand out legislation reflected the work that Dr. Verwoerd did in his early days in parliament as Minister for Native Affairs. Most notably, the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act 1959, as well as the Extension of University Education Act 1959. The first of these key pieces of legislation paved the way for the African homelands to be properly established, whilst creating the provision for progression towards full self-determination (economic and political) for both the European and the African.
The second policy regarding university education entrenched the philosophy of apartheid in the higher education system. This is often studied as ‘preventing Africans from going to university’, but in actual fact the policy established dozens of new universities especially for the African people (built using money from the white economy), whilst preserving white universities for the European-descended population of South Africa. The black universities were set up in close proximity to the homelands and were designed as per Verwoerd’s earlier philosophy; to prepare the African to invest his talents in his own community.
Hendrik Verwoerd was the most popular Prime Minister of the National Party’s half-century in power, which was evident by the way he broadened their appeal. During the early part of the 1960’s, many English-South Africans ditched their traditional party allegiance – to the United Party – and came to support the Afrikaner-dominated National Party. This can be inferred as a show of support for the direction Verwoerd was taking the Union, particularly the new phase of apartheid which can be classified as the ‘separate development’ phase.
Another radical move of Verwoerd’s was to hold a referendum on the Union of South Africa becoming a republic. This was an issue that had been an aim of the National Party since coming to power, but no leader until Verwoerd could command the electoral support to potentially win such a vote. Even though his support was massive, Verwoerd ensured that the voting age was lowered to 16 – which favoured the growing Afrikaans-speaking youth population – and incorporated South-West Africa for the vote whos population was primarily Afrikaans speakers of Dutch and German decent (who were more likely to favour succession from the British crown). Even though English-South Africans were in theory more likely to favour allegiance to the British crown, many of them voted with Verwoerd and the referendum was passed with 52% saying ‘yes’ – on 31st May 1961, South Africa became a republic within the Commonwealth.
In the elections of March 1966, Verwoerd steered the National Party to their greatest ever result. Thanks to growing support from English-South Africans, the National Party won 58% of the popular vote (up 12%) with an increase of 21 seats (126 of 170) – this was also the first time they had gained over 50% of the popular vote in a general election. At this point, Verwoerd was at the height of his power with very little opposition within his own party or in the country at large.
It was during this time that security in South Africa was at its most stable position – the ANC’s illegal underground terrorist cell, Umkhonto we Sizwe, were arrested under Verwoerd’s crackdown on subversive activities. It was amongst this crackdown that Nelson Mandela and his fellow terrorists were arrested and imprisoned.
Furthermore, during this period South Africa began programmes to develop native-built military equipment owing to an increasing number of nations being brow-beaten by the United Nations into ceasing their arms trade with the country. Under Verwoerd, they made great advances in homegrown military hardware, including building planes, ships, tanks and even embarking on an ambitious (and successful) programme of developing nuclear and biological weapons. It is rumoured that this nuclear programme was conducted in collaboration with Israel, who were customers of South African uranium.
However, the radical policies of the Prime Minister had earned him many enemies and, on 6th September 1966, Hendrik Verwoerd was stabbed in the neck by a coloured terrorist shortly after entering the parliament building. He was taken to hospital but pronounced dead upon arrival. On 10th September 1966, Verwoerd’s state funeral attracted 250,000 people to Pretoria to celebrate his life and mourn his death. He was buried at Hero’s Acre, Pretoria.
Verwoerd’s legacy has been marred by buzzwords and pseudo-history, thanks to this phenomenon of post-truth liberalism in which we have found ourselves in the last quarter of a century. He is decried as a racist proponent of ‘white supremacy’, yet in actual fact he did more for African self-determination during his time in government than any of the post-1994 “politicians”. His commitment to separate development must not be conflated with this non-white victim-hood culture that has taken hold of western societies in the 21st century. In fact, many black folk may agree – given the chance to study the evidence objectively – that the policy suggestions of Verwoerd would be more than acceptable to both black and white folk living in multi-ethnic societies today.
There is a commemorative bust of Hendrik Verwoerd erected in the town of Orania, Northern cape, where his widow Betsie resided until her death in the year 2000. The ‘Verwoerd collection’ is also housed in Orania, where memorabilia collected throughout his life is housed.