Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, prime minister of the Republic of South Africa, rose from his desk in Parliament September 6 at 2 p.m., as corridor bells announced the opening of another session. At that instant, a man wearing a parliamentary messenger’s uniform emerged from the crowd and suddenly began stabbing Verwoerd with a six-inch blade. Before legislators could drag the assailant away, wounds that would prove fatal within minutes had been inflicted.

The immorality of Verwoerd’s death, most shocking assassination since that of President John F. Kennedy nearly three years ago, was almost overshadowed by the moral issue of racism which so characterized his life. Yet Dimitri Stafendis, the man accused as the assassin, was not part of South Africa’s oppressed black majority, but an immigrant of Greek descent from Portuguese Mozambique.

Early reports said Stafendis had complained that Verwoerd was doing too much for non-whites and not enough for “poor whites.” The 45-year-old bachelor was described as an avid Bible reader who repeatedly sought interpretation of divinely-sanctioned slayings in the Old Testament.

Verwoerd, who would have been 65 two days after the stabbing, was the son of a Dutch Reformed missionary who worshipped regularly at a Reformed church in Rondebosch, a suburb of the parliamentary city of Cape Town. He received significant support from the nine Reformed denominations, even though three of them belong to the World Council of Churches which has long opposed the apartheid (racial segregation) laws of the nation. His most visible antagonists were Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

The nation’s new leader will be chosen by Verwoerd’s Nationalist Party, which has a 3-to-1 majority in Parliament. A leading prospect was ...

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