Verwoerd's grandson on growing up as a ‘traitor’ to Afrikaners
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 September 6, 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 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 October 7, 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.
Now his grandson, Wilhelm Verwoerd, details in his own book, Verwoerd: My Journey through Family Betrayals, how he’s always been caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place almost his entire adult life.
His 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.”
But Wilhelm has made his (political) bed and intends to lie in it.
And his bloodline to HF Verwoerd is a matter that has not given him peace from the time he understood 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 - 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 Steve Biko for the first time while in Holland.
He takes up the opportunity to go to meet 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.
The book is published by Tafelberg and sells for R290.
The Sunday Independent