Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Reinterpretting Verwoerd

Reinterpretting Verwoerd

In his piece Remembering Verwoerd and in previous treatments of Hendrik Verwoerd, Hermann Giliomee presents a highly personalized, arguably positive perspective on the man.  I guess the best word he and many of his opponents (e.g. Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, historian C.W. de Kiewiet, editor Allister Sparks and politician Frederik van Zyl Slabbert) use to describe Prime Minister/Dr H.F. Verwoerd is: spellbinding.  I have also met several individuals who knew and/or researched Verwoerd and his predecessor J.G. Strydom and his successors: B.J. Voster, P.W. Botha and F.W. de Klerk.  All regard Verwoerd as a political “genius” committed unswervingly to the development of the Afrikaner People (especially the poor) mediated by ‘hard-wired’ white domination through Separate Development.   His ideas along these lines were much more strongly influenced policies encountered in 1930s USA than in 1920-30s Germany, although he encouraged pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic journalism whie he was editor of Die Transvaler’.

Strydom was an aggressive, but not inventive, white supremacist whose political strategy was essentially ‘baasskap’.    His major political ‘achievements’ were removing Coloured’ voters from the common voters roll and precipitating the extended Treason Trial of 156 activists (including Nelson Mandela).  Had he not died, there might have been a much more rapid escalation to violent resistance (and even collaboration between) by the ANC/PAC.  This revolution could (but probably wouldn’t) have precipitated a rapid transition to some peaceful compromise.  A more likely scenario would have been an as yet not overwhelmingly dominant National Party being deposed by the United Party (UP), followed by a peaceful transition to more representative government.  But, this would have required the UP being led by someone with the vision akin to that of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr   

Hofmeyr opposed the removal of the Black franchise in 1936 and resigned from the Cabinet and left his party caucus over the appointment that disadvantaged Coloureds.  In general, he was much more liberal and progressive about non-racial government than his ideological ‘brother’ Jan Smuts and his successor ‘cricketer’ De Villiers Graaff.  But that was not to be.  Strydom died and was replaced in a closely contested competition by Verwoerd.

Verwoerd dramatically transformed Apartheid, ‘perfecting’ it into Separate Development.  He was the prime mover in drafting and implementing legislation relating to:

1.       the Bantu Education Act (1953) which suppressed independent school education for Blacks and massively developed state-funded, deliberately deficient education;

2.       the Promotion of Black Self-Government (‘Homelands’) Act (1958);

3.       the Bantu Investment Corporation Act (1959) to finance Homelands;

4.       the Extension of University Education Act (1959) which created separate universities for Blacks, Coloureds and Indians,  and excluding them from White universities;

5.       the Physical Planning and Utilization of Resources Act (1967) to promote Homeland industrial development;

6.       the displacement of some 80 000 Africans from Sophiatown, Martindale and Newclare to the newly established townships of south-western Johannesburg (Soweto); and

7.       the declarations of state of emergency to repress demonstrations and the banning of anti-apartheid individuals and parties.
He also manipulated voting laws/rights to engineer South Africa’s departure from the non-racial British Commonwealth and to attract support from English speakers for Apartheid policies.

In this transformation, he was strongly influenced by his ideological partner (perhaps even mentor) Werner Eiselen.

De-emphasizing a biologically based racist approach, Verwoerd marketed Separate Development as a cultural/ethnic significant step towards cooperative development of a “commonwealth” of ‘self-governing’ southern African states founded on a "policy of good neighbourliness".  But, Separate Development was always an astonishingly cunning ploy to promote, if not enshrine, white domination.   Eiselen eventually realized this and quietly parted ways with Verwoerd.
My Verwoerd chroniclers concur in describing Vorster as a “bumbling liberal” who tried to follow through on Separate Development while holding off the liberation tsunami.  They differ on Botha.  Some agree with Andries Treurnicht and condemn him as a “sell-out communist”.  The remainder, somewhat like Giliomee, think of him as a ‘Horatius at the bridge’ trying to: salvage Separate Development, co-opt ‘Coloureds’ and Indians into a Tricameral Parliament, placate his supporters while demolishing the various liberation movements and, if necessary, murdering their leaders.  They all agree that South Africa was ‘saved’ when failing health allowed his abrupt deposition.

All view de Klerk (Strydom’s nephew by marriage) positively, but more of as an effective realist than a visionary.

My own view of Verwoerd is utterly negative.  His toxic transformation of Eiselen’s ‘philosophy’ during his time in power, especially his years as prime minister, perfected the technique of educationally, psychologically, politically and socio-economically emasculating black Africans.  This precipitated the transformation of the ANC from a non-violent organization into an (albeit ineffectual) revolutionary ‘army’.  His bumbling and brutal successors followed a tragic political trajectory that engendered the development of Black Consciousness which, in turn, has been perverted into a destructive, chaotic force of leaderless ‘fallists’ bent on destroying the few remnants of liberal democracy that withstood and, ultimately  survived, the Apartheid Era.

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