“The Man Who Killed Apartheid : The Life of Dimitri Tsafendas” set for launch

Composite image of Hendrik Verwoerd, left, and Dmitri Tsafendas, right. Photo : AA

Johannesbourg, South Africa (ADV) – Tomorrow, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation alongside Jacana Media and the Apartheid Museum will launch the biography of the late Dimitri Tsafendas.

Titled “The Man Who Killed Apartheid: The Life of Dimitri Tsafendas” the book details fascinating insight into Tsefandas and his possible motives for killing Verwoerd.

The apartheid state portrayed Tsafendas as an apolitical “lunatic” who was ‘inspired’ to kill Verwoerd by a giant “tapeworm”.

The biography on Tsafendas, the man who stabbed to death ’apartheid’s architect’, Prime Minister Hendrick Verwoerd, will see speakers who include Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, Advocate George Bizos, Judge Jody Kollapen and the author, Harris Dousemetzis sharing the stage.

Dousemetzis however says he has uncovered evidence that suggests that Tsefandas was “perfectly sane” and had pretended otherwise to avoid the gallows.

Furthermore, Dousemetzis provides evidence that suggests that Tsafendas was a “political animal” who loathed apartheid and colonialism.

While the book seeks to set straight historical records and perceptions, the author has also submitted a report to the Minister Masutha to have the public record amended.

Who is Dimitri Tsafendas?

According to Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia, Tsafendas was born in Maputo, Mozambique to Michaelis Tsafendas a Greek seaman Amelia Williams and a Mozambican woman of race. He was sent to Egypt after his first year to live with his grandmother. He returned to Mozambique five years later; then, at the age of ten, moved to Transvaal, where he attended Middleburg Primary School from 1928–1930. He then returned to Mozambique and attended a church school for the next two years.

From age 16, Tsafendas worked at various jobs. He joined the South African Communist Party in the 1930s. He became a seaman in the merchant marine in 1941. He served aboard a US convoy ship after the outbreak of the Second World War, and spent the next 20 years travelling. He began to experience psychotic episodes that resulted in short periods of institutionalisation in various countries, including a 6-month detention on Ellis Island where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

During his wanderings, he picked up 8 languages, and upon his return to South Africa, he worked for a time as a translator. Tsafendas was classified as white under the apartheid system’s racial laws but was shunned in White South African society because of his dark skin.[6Because of his dark appearance, he faced taunts and ostracism throughout his life.

In 1966, Tsafendas, at the age of forty-eight, obtained a temporary position as a parliamentary messenger. A month later on 6 September, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd entered the House of Assembly and made his way to his seat. Tsafendas approached him, drew a concealed knife, and stabbed Dr. Verwoerd about four times in the torso before he could be pulled away by other members of parliament.

Tsafendas received non-life-threatening injuries. Although the assassination was apparently deliberate, he had made no plan for escape and was easily apprehended. He was taken into police custody, and then moved to a hospital where he was interviewed. Later, he was returned to jail pending trial.

Following the assassination, leaders in the anti-apartheid movement distanced themselves from any association with Tsafendas. He was also disowned by the Two by Twos church. Although there seemed to be no rational political motivation behind the deed, six days after the assassination, Tsafendas told the police that he had killed Verwoerd because he was “so disgusted with the racial policy. One source indicates that Tsafendas believed that Verwoerd “was helping blacks at the expense of whites.

At his trial, Judge Andries Beyers declared Tsafendas not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. He had been diagnosed as being schizophrenic and it was claimed by police and his defence that he had said that he had a giant tapeworm inside him, which spoke to him. The court ordered that he be detained “at the pleasure of the State President” which meant that only the State President (later President) had the authority to order his release. He was never discharged.

Tsafendas was at first given a cell on death row in Pretoria Central Prison, next to the room in which men were hanged, sometimes seven at a time. In 1986, he was transferred to Zonderwater Prison near Cullinan. In 1994, he was transferred again, this time to Sterkfontein psychiatric hospital outside Krugersdorp. In 1999, Liza Key was allowed to conduct two televised interviews with him, for a documentary called A Question of Madness; she put forward the suggestion that he may have been acting as part of a wider conspiracy.

Tsafendas, died at the age of 81 of pneumonia in October 1999. At the time of his death, he was not regarded as a hero in anti-apartheid circles, which sent no members to attend his funeral. The funeral was held according to Greek Orthodox rites, and he was buried in an unmarked grave outside Sterkfontein Hospital. Fewer than ten people attended the service.

© Bur-csa – A.H – N.A / From our regional correspondent Mkhululi Chimoio – African Daily Voice (ADV)