​Verwoerd, Wilhelm (2019) Verwoerd: My Journey Through Family Betrayals. Cape Town: Tafelberg. 280 pp.

​ISBN: 978-0-624-08818-9

David Mitchell

Trinity College Dublin at Belfast

Read more about this book: www.tafelberg.com

​Hendrik Verwoerd, prime minster of South Africa from 1958 to 1966, is remembered as ‘the Architect of Apartheid’. This book is a reflective memoir by his grandson, Wilhelm, who not only repudiated the Afrikaner Christian Nationalist ideology into which he was born but joined the ANC and campaigned against the legacy of his grandfather. Wilhelm is an academic and experienced facilitator of dialogue between combatants in several arenas. The book contains touches of theory and comparative examples, especially from Ireland where he worked in peacebuilding for ten years. But the focus is on his own search for reconciliation, not, primarily, with his ethnic group’s ‘enemies’, but with his heritage, a heritage to which he was branded a traitor. Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated when Wilhelm was just two, provoking celebrations among non-White South Africans. Yet, throughout the book, the author returns to a family photograph of himself as a baby, being nursed on his ‘Oupa’s’ knee. How can it be that this loving family man was responsible for the suffering of millions of people? Apartheid was evil, but was Verwoerd? And can Wilhelm make some kind of peace with his grandfather as a human being and an ancestor without being implicated in his actions? All the moral introspection could have been turgid, but the book brilliantly dramatizes Wilhelm’s personal and political journey using his journals and letters, and the diaries of his grieving grandmother. These are juxtaposed with the accounts of black and coloured friends which show the brutal impact of Verwoerd’s policies and legacy. Rich and readable, the book is a remarkable addition to literatures on reconciliation and South Africa.