South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd is stabbed to death by a 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 racist laws separating whites, Africans (Blacks), Coloureds and Asians, and resettled Black people in backwater reservations. These policies provoked anti-apartheid demonstrations by Black people, 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 mentally ill 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.
READ MORE: The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa