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1966

Architect of apartheid assassinated

South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd is stabbed to death by a deranged messenger during a parliamentary meeting in Cape Town. The assailant, Demetrio Tsafendas, was a Mozambique immigrant of mixed racial descent–part Greek and part Swazi.

As minister of native affairs and later as South African leader, Verwoerd oversaw the introduction and application of South Africa’s racist apartheid policies. As prime minister from 1958, he instituted an intricate system of laws separating whites, Africans (blacks), Coloureds, and Asians, and resettled blacks in backwater reservations. These policies provoked anti-apartheid demonstrations by blacks, which were brutally crushed by government forces at Sharpeville and elsewhere. When, in April 1960, Verwoerd miraculously survived being shot twice in the head by an English farmer, he proclaimed that his survival was evidence of God’s approval of his work. During the next few years, Verwoerd’s government arrested anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela and sentenced them to long prison terms on the basis of various convictions.

Verwoerd had succeeded in temporarily crushing anti-apartheid resistance, but he could not prevent a schizophrenic parliamentary page from walking up to him in the Houses of Assembly and stabbing him to death on September 6, 1966. Tsafendas, who apparently was not acting in protest of apartheid, was sent to a mental hospital near Johannesburg, where he lived until his death in 1999. Apartheid was abolished in South Africa in 1993.

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