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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 15, No. 30, 9 September 2016

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong Meets South African Communist Party Delegation

Editor: Joyce Dong

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong met with a delegation from the South African Communist Party (SACP) led by its General Secretary Blade Nzimande on September 6.

Liu called on both sides to implement the consensus reached by the leaders of two countries on their bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership.

She said the Communist Party of China (CPC) values ties with the SACP, and is willing to enhance party-to-party ties.

Nzimande said the SACP is ready to expand cooperation with the CPC, including on party building and economic development.
(Primary Source: Xinhua)

(Secondary Source: All-China Women's Federation:  http://m.womenofchina.cn/womenofchina/xhtml1/news/china/1609/691-1.htm


Dimitri Tsafendas unveiled: Fifty years since the assassination of so-called apartheid architect, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd

"When you do a good thing, you can't go around advertising it. You do it because it is the right thing to do, not to be applauded by the others..." - Dimitri Tsafendas

By Cde Solly Mapaila

This week Tuesday marked fifty years since 6 September 1966 when Dimitri Tsafendas assassinated Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, South Africa's Prime Minister and the so-called architect of apartheid, in the House of Assembly in Cape Town. Tsafendas was a Parliamentary messenger and stabbed Verwoerd to death at his seat on the front bench.

Tsafendas was born in Mozambique in 1918, to a Greek father and a Mozambican mother, and quickly became an outspoken opponent of the Portuguese colonialism which ruled the country of his birth. His left-wing activities - he was twice suspected of spreading Communist propaganda - came to the notice of Portugal's Security police, the PIDE, who opened a secret file on him in 1938, the Secret Criminal Record nº 10.415 of Demitrios Tsafantakis. By the time of the assassination, the file ran to 130 pages. Subsequently, Tsafendas was banned from Mozambique and was forced to spend 24 years in exile.

At age 21, Tsafendas travelled to South Africa, joined the Communist Party and worked enthusiastically for the Party, delivering leaflets and organising demonstrations. As the threat of war in Europe became reality, he fought in the streets of Johannesburg with members of the Afrikaner Ossewabrandwag and other Fascist and Nazi organizations. His face was bruised and his clothes torn but he declared, "We always won." Because of his heavy build, Tsafendas provided security at party meetings and acted as a bodyguard for local Communist leaders.

In 1947, Tsafendas joined the Democratic Army of Greece, the military wing of the Greek Communist Party, and participated in the ongoing Greek Civil War.

In the late 1950s and the 1960s, he joined the British anti-apartheid movement and associated with the then ANC representative in London, Tennyson Xola Makiwane. Each time he visited London, he placed flowers on the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery. He fought with his comrades against black-uniformed supporters of Oswald Mosley's Union Movement. When he was stabbed in the hand, he displayed the scar proudly as a badge of honour. During an anti-apartheid demonstration, he carried a placard depicting a man in a Ku Klux Klan uniform labelled "VERWOERD." He joined the Yellow Star movement and wore the badge which replicated the Star of David which the Nazis forced European Jews to wear before and during World War Two.

In 1963, he convinced the Portuguese that he was mad but harmless and that his Communist ideas belonged to the past. He was granted amnesty and finally returned to the land of his birth. But he was soon in trouble again. In 1964, in Beira, he was arrested and accused of pretending to be a Christian missionary while in reality preaching in favour of Mozambique's independence.

When the interrogation turned to torture, Tsafendas came up with an idea that neatly fitted his situation. Surrounded as he was by Bibles and holy books, he pretended to be Christ's apostle, Saint Peter. This persuaded the Portuguese to release him once more. Arrested on similar charges a few weeks later, he told his interrogators boldly that he wanted "a Mozambique governed by the natives of that Province, be they white or black, and therefore separated from the mother nation." The PIDE report said that "although, Tsafendas is mentally disabled, you do find in him a true spirit of rebellion against the ruling institutions, and a clear adhesion to the independence of Mozambique."

Back in South Africa in August 1966, Tsafendas took some Greek seamen to a black township in Cape Town to show them the realities of apartheid and to persuade them not to spend any money to boost the apartheid economy.

A month later, September 6, 1966, he stabbed Verwoerd four times in the chest and neck. He died immediately.

He was frank with the police. He said he was against colonialism and apartheid , he considered that Verwoerd was not the real representative of ALL the South African people, he wanted to see a government that would represent all South African people, he was disgusted with Verwoerd's policies and he hoped his removal would lead to a change of policy.

Several witnesses told the police that Tsafendas was a Communist, one characterised him as the "biggest Communist in the Republic," another as "dangerous Communist." The South African police gathered a plethora of evidence about Tsafendas's politics, including that he was a former member of the SACP, that he had fought with the Communists during the Greek Civil War, that he considered Verwoerd to be a tyrant, a dictator and "Hitler's best student." However, none of this was mentioned in the court, the word "Communist" was never even heard, and he was portrayed as a madman without any political thought or political past whatsoever.

PIDE was partly responsible for this false picture since they withheld important information. Two days after the assassination, the Director of PIDE ordered his Sub-Director in Mozambique not to give to the South African police any information showing Tsafendas as a partisan for Mozambican independence. The information supplied by PIDE focused on the fact that Tsafendas was perhaps mad and not on his political activities. It was obviously better for them that the Portuguese citizen who murdered South Africa's Prime Minister be mad tather than a Communist.

While in custody after the assassination, Tsafendas was systematically tortured by the police. Almost every day, he would be taken blindfolded and with his hands tied, to another room. There they placed him on a chair with a rope around his neck. They then pulled the chair away, leaving him hanging from the rope for a few seconds while the policemen shouted and laughed. They then loosed the rope and let him fall. On the floor, he was kicked and beaten again. A form of psychological torture was also employed. He was taken to the window in a different room and the police threatened to throw him out, saying they would claim he had tried to escape. Apart from the beatings, he was given electric shocks. All these were standard torture techniques of the apartheid police.

In a four-day summary trial that followed, Tsafendas was found to be schizophrenic and unfit to stand trial. None of his real political ideas and political activities was mentioned and the vast amount of evidence the police had gathered which could have overturned the diagnosis was never used. It was better for the Government to claim that a madman had assassinated Verwoerd than a Communist. Better also to put someone in jail and present him as a madman than to turn him into a martyr by executing him. Tsafendas spent the next 28 years in prison, including two months in Robben Island. In 1994, he was transferred to the Sterkfontein Psychiatric hospital, where he died in 1999.

In 1994 Tsafendas was visited by Jody Kollapen, now a High Court Judge in Pretoria, then a representative of Lawyers for Human Rights. He was the first visitor he had in 28 years, apart from a Greek Orthodox priest who had begun visiting him in 1989. In a memo to the Human Rights Commission Judge Kollapen expressed his belief that Tsafendas "should not die a lonely man in an institution but should spend the last years of his life in the company of people he knows and perhaps trusts ... I believe that the man has served his debt to the society (if he owed a debt at all in the first place) ..." However, nothing eventuated from Judge Kollapen's appeal and Tsafendas died a lonely man in a psychiatric hospital. He was South Africa's longest serving prisoner and he is buried in an unmarked grave in Sterkfontein.

Tsafendas was never mad; he had only pretended to be mad when it was convenient for him. While in hospital and in prison Tsafendas spoke frankly to people he trusted about the assassination and his supposed madness. Some thirty years after the assassination, Tsafendas was asked by two Greek Orthodox priests about his posthumous fame and how he would like people to remember him. He said he did not care about it, that he felt he had done his duty, the right thing and his conscience was clear. When priests told him that they were going to tell his story to the world, Tsafendas urged them not to do so. He said that "when you do a good thing, you can't go around advertising it. You do it because it is the right thing to do, not to be applauded by the others. Do a good thing and then throw it into the sea ... I believed it was my duty to do it when I had the chance and I did it."

Cde Solly Mapaila is SACP 2nd Deputy General Secretary. This piece is a result of increasing interaction with research fellows, work and contribution paying detailed attention on Dimitri Tsafendas.


Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class