Sunday Times 50 year flashback: Dr Verwoerd’s speeches and apartheid are space fiction

15 May 2014 - 15:26 By Stanley Uys
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After listening to the Prime Minister's speeches, as I did again this week in the debate on South West Africa, I always feel confused on a much higher level.

This, I suppose, is the test of a good politician: Whether he confuses you on a higher or a lower level. Mr. De Wet Nel, for example always confuses me on a lower level. Obviously he is not a good politician.

For years now I have tried, unsuccessfully, to sit right through one of Dr. Verwoerd's speeches, even his four-and-a-half hour orbital flight in the Senate way back in the 1950s.

I failed because I became confused. There is a crucial point in all Dr. Verwoerd' s speeches, a kind of climacteric where the listener 's mind calls for mercy. From Dr. Verwoerd's point of view this must be the point of exhilaration, like breaking the sound barrier.

After that, there is nothing to stop him, not even an horizon — there is nothing except space and more space. For the listener's mind, however, the experience is quite different.

This is where he bales out, if he values his equilibrium. He wafts slowly back to earth and reads the rest in the newspapers.


To describe Dr. Verwoerd's speeches as space fiction is to tell only half the story; the whole of the theory of apartheid is a kind of space fiction itself. That hot only individuals but whole nations should listen to it attentively Is proof of the openness of the modern mind.

For any political scientist who wants to write a thesis on the reality of the unreal, here, in the past 16 years of Nationalist Party rule, lies all the necessary raw material.

The question which must be posed is: How is it possible that intelligent men, even world statesmen, can be persuaded to discuss the "positive" side of apartheid as if it were a real thing, something which actually existed or could exist?

After all, what is Bantustan? If it falls, apartheid fails and if it succeeds apartheid still fails. Whatever happens, apartheid fails.

All that Bantustan achieves — and this admittedly is no mean achievement— Is that it buys time for the Government by renewing continually in various ingenious forms the debate on whether apartheid can succeed.


From this starting point of unreality every other form of unreality becomes possible. Grown-up men sit down and discus s solemnly whether, perhaps, partition is the answer to the race problem.

And then other grown-up men sit down and discuss other absurdities — Why stop at one castle in the air? Why do men, and even nations, do this? Why, with all the knowledge placed at our disposal by thousands of years of civilisation, do we deliberately detach ourselves from reality and studiously examine what we know to be unreal?

The explanation, I think is that we refuse to face the implications of the reality. The implications are too overwhelming, so we prefer to give our attention to the unreality, This is what has happened with apartheid.

Apartheid will fail. Every intelligent man here and abroad knows this. But what are the consequences of facing this fact? The consequences are that one must then do something about it.


This is the dilemma of the Western nations, They know perfectly well that apartheid has no hope whatever of success and that no modification of it, like partition, has any hope either. But they find it impossible to accept this fact— at least in their public reaction and behaviour.

The Western nations are obliged, by the circumstances in which they find themselves to believe that apartheid somehow can muddle through.

The alternative to this is to declare that apartheid must fail utterly and then do something about it. But what can they do about it? They have considered imposing sanctions, of course, or doing something drastic like that, but the enormity of this step appals them. So they with dram defeated.

Apartheid, in fact has defeated the West. This is its greatest single achievement — and not only the West but many people in South Africa find themselves similarly defeated.

An escape

The serious discussion which is given then in otherwise intelligent circle to the possibility of apartheid's succeeding or to the practicability of alternative remedies like partition is a device to escape from the grimness of the reality. This is the human mind, ever adaptable, seeking its self-justification.

It is' an accepted psychological device. We are all guilty of it, in a lesser or greater degree. If we and a problem is insoluble — that is, if the remedy is more overpowering than the problem itself — we promptly wipe the plate clean and discuss the problem, solemnly and at great length (very great length ) as if it were entirely soluble. Then, with growing uneasiness, we await developments.

This story first appeared in the Sunday Times newspaper on May 10, 1964.

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