(Written 4 Nov 2012)

Dear All,

A recent discussion about Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (1901 – 1966) having been at Wynberg Boys High School for one year (http://www.wbhs.org.za/ Headmaster’s Blog) had me reaching for my copy of what must be the finest book published on Afrikaaner Nationalism, W A de Klerk’s The Puritans in Africa: A story of Afrikaanerdom, (Pelican, 1976). The thought on my mind being to what extent his schooling may have influenced the world-view of a person many would consider to have been the devil incarnate.

It is well recorded that Verwoerd was an extremely intelligent man (although I have learnt that he only came second in his Wynberg class, 1913) but what was of greater interest to me is the way in which his early life may have made it possible for him to rationalise his role in the obvious destruction, pain and distress caused by the implementation of National Party policies in South Africa during the 50s and 60s. Especially since his father seems to have had great sympathy for the Boers in their struggle against the English and so the family’s sense of the pain of social injustice must have been acute. It is my guess that his deeply religious father played a key role in his thinking and perhaps his schoolboy experiences had a part in it. No doubt his immersion in the Social Pathologies and problems of white Afrikaaner poverty during the depression years in particular could have prompted a self-image of a saviour of his people. Whatever it was, his destruction of the lives of many people came with a peculiar sense of righteousness that is well described in Chapter 10, titled The Promethean Afrikaaner, a chapter in which de Klerk writes about the way in which the policy of apartheid ‘unfolded’ (p. 241):

Never in history have so few legislated so programmatically, thoroughly and religiously, in such a short time, for so many divergent groups, cultures and traditions, than the nationalist Afrikaaners of the second half of the twentieth century. Never had such a small minority of all those affected done so much with such a high sense of purpose, vocation and idealism. Never have so few drawn such sharply critical attention from a wondering world. Never has such a volume of criticism been so wide of the mark.

The world’s criticism was ineffective because “(they) did not understand that the harshness, the patent injustices, were all oblique but necessary results of a most rational, most passionate, most radical will to restructure the world according to a vision of justice; all with a view to lasting peace, progress and prosperity. As such it was true to the peculiar life-style of the Western Puritan man.

A bust of H F Verwoerd

This Puritanical view of righteousness was captured in two dicta regularly preached by Verwoerd, the first being that “The policy (of separate development) is designed for happiness, security and stability…,” and secondly, in the nature of a slogan, “Skep self u eie toekoms!” In a sentence, “Create your own future by a design for the happiness of all.”

These dicta, in some modern context, may find a place in the hearts and minds of the Men of Wynberg in 2012, but I am sure we will never be able to calculate the damage, suffering and loss brought about by the Puritanical implementation and rationalisation of this ultimately misguided work by the disciples of Malan; N. J. van der Merwe, T. E. Dönges, Eric Louw, C. R. Swart, J. G. Strydom and H. F. Verwoerd. All of whom, except Verwoerd, as de Klerk points out, “… were urbanised Afrikaaners, but a generation removed from their own platteland nurseries (p.114).” Verwoerd was born in Holland.

So in answer to the question as to how it was possible for Verwoerd to rationalise the destruction of apartheid, I am afraid I really am non-the-wiser. Who knows what goes on in the mind of an extremely intelligent bigot ?