Learning to make friends with enemies

2013-12-07 00:00

THE grandson of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd says Nelson Mandela changed his life completely — but at the cost of being kicked out of his famous family.

And Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd told Weekend Witness the iconic Afrikaner family was now concerned for South Africa’s future without the moral influence of the man they once feared above all others.

Verwoerd — who now works on political reconciliation in Northern Ireland — recalled how Mandela visited his grandmother, Betsie Verwoerd, for tea in the Afrikaner stronghold of Orania in 1995, in a reconciliation effort “which she appreciated; one of several remarkable gestures he made to the Afrikaner community”.

Now — as co-ordinator of a programme to win reconciliation between “ex-combatants” and victims of the political violence in Northern Ireland, Verwoerd said Mandela’s inclusive approach continued to heal around the world.

He said the ANC’s disarmament strategy under Mandela’s leadership ahead of the Codesa talks in 1992, was key to the same choice adopted by the IRA and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, and helped lead to the power sharing deal there in 2007.

“In both Northern Ireland and Palestine, the spirit of Mandela has a lot of appeal — particularly his courage to be inclusive,” he said.

But he said his personal leap from right wing Afrikaner nationalism to ANC activism in the 1980s — triggered by Mandela’s stance for freedom in prison “led to a very difficult journey, and the loss of relationships within my family”.

In a move that scandalised the National Party, Verwoerd joined the ANC as a student, and later worked as a researcher for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“It led to deep conflicts within the family, in particular, with my father, who shared my grandfather’s political views. There was a sense (among Afrikaners) that I had betrayed them. It took 10 years before there was some understanding of my position within my family.

“I was heavily influenced by a meeting I had with Madiba in the early 1990s — he welcomed me with great warmth. He told me there’s no point making friends with friends; you have to make friends with enemies.”

In 2003, Verwoerd described the family view at a Unesco event in Holland: “The vision I grew up with was that God created different racial groups and the only way to have peace was separate development.”

Verwoerd met Mandela again that year, at the Special Olympics.

After a decade of work in Northern Ireland, Verwoerd recently returned to South Africa to launch a local violence and reconciliation programme.

Verwoerd said Mandela’s example had helped thaw his icy family relations. “They still have different political opinions, but there is a new appreciation of Mandela’s legacy.”

He said some members of his once far-right family were concerned that lawlessness would increase in a South Africa without Mandela’s moral leadership.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.