Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd

(1901—1966) South African statesman, Prime Minister 1958–66

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(b. 8 Sept. 1901, d. 6 Sept. 1966).

Prime Minister of South Africa 1958–66

Early career

Born in Amsterdam (the Netherlands), his family migrated to South Africa in 1903. He studied at Stellenbosch, then in Germany (1925–8), and was appointed professor upon his return to Stellenbosch. His interest in social work led him to become one of the main proponents of (White) social welfare in South Africa. In 1936, he went to the Transvaal to help rebuild the National Party (NP) organization which had all but collapsed after the 1934 split. He came to work closely with Strijdom, whose republican convictions he shared. He was defeated in elections to parliament in 1948, but in July became a member of the Senate. A fanatical proponent of apartheid, who was considered a ‘man of vision’ on racial segregation by many Afrikaners, he became Minister for Native Affairs in 1950.

In office

In spite of considerable Black opposition, he ‘solved’ the question of the Black influx to the industrial centres by promoting residential segregation. Other efforts included a law discouraging mixed‐race attendance at church services (1957), the creation of Black homelands (bantustan) such as Transkei, and an Education Act for Blacks (1953). As Prime Minister, he continued to promote segregation, promoting self‐government for Black homelands and residential, educational, and political segregation of people of mixed race (‘Coloureds’). On 3 February 1960, he responded to Macmillan's speech to the South African parliament (‘The wind of change is blowing through this continent’) by stubbornly protesting South Africa's destiny as a ‘true White state in Africa’. On 9 April 1960 he miraculously escaped an assassination attempt, and used the subsequent emotions to call a referendum, in which a majority approved his plan for a republic, which he established in 1961. Given the passionate opposition of most Commonwealth members to apartheid, he withdrew the Republic's application for continued membership in 1961. He was assassinated in parliament.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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