DIMITRI TSAFENDAS A HERO TO SOME VILAIN TO OTHERS
Shortly after his deed, township slang adopted his surname when describing an act of stabbing someone.
“I will tsafenda you,” became the new scare word of the tsotsi of the late 60s and 70s.
All because of Dimitry Tsafendas.
He had done the unthinkable.
Right in the hallowed corridors of the House of Assembly in Parliament he had stabbed the country’s president to death.
It took four stab wounds from two knives to fell the man widely credited as the architect of apartheid – Dr Hendrick Verwoerd.
This was on the fateful day of September 6, 1966.
To tell Tsafendas’ story a book “The Man Who Killed Apartheid” on the life and death of Tsafendas was Thursday launched at Mofolo Library, Soweto.
Authored by Greek-born UK-based tutor Harris Dousematzis, the book dismisses the notion that Tsafendas was mad “though slightly unbalanced”.
“To a certain extent, Tsafendas is regarded as the Greek version of Che Guevara for his courage of fighting against oppression and racial domination. He is an unsung hero,’ said Dousematzis who was the guest speaker at the launch.
The reader will be pleasantly surprised to learn that Tsafendas was born of a black Mozambican woman and a Greek father.
In several episodes of his life Tsafendas had apparently faked insanity in one instance referring to himself as the “St Peter, The Apostle”.
The choice of Soweto for the launch had been instigated by the fact that one of the people who shared the latter days with Tsafendas before his death in 1999 was the late journalist Mike “Mazurki” Phahlane when they were held at the Sterkfontein Mental Hospital.
Phahlane’s daughter Sonia Khumalo was also in attendance and received a complimentary book.
Legend has it that for the four years they were together at Sterkfontein, Phahlane would throw a party in honour of Tsafendas every September 6.
So much enamoured was Phahlane with Tsafendas that he had insisted their beds be next to one another.
The book further details the “dual” upbringing of Tsafendas who lived with his black mom until his father took him under his wing at the age of seven.
Tsafendas senior never married the Mozambican woman named Amelia as his parents insisted on him getting himself a woman of Greek origin.
It was the step mother who was a communist, anarchist, and an anti-colonialist who seem to have left an impressionable mark in the mind of a young Tsafendas.
Dousematzis says its noteworthy that even as a teen Tsafendas was harbouring dreams of becoming a freedom fighter against the cruel Portuguese colonizers of Mozambique.
He had apparently with his friends one day gone to the Portuguese embassy in the then capital city Lourenco Marques and scratched the convoy of vehicles parked in the yard.
Apartheid South Africa had barred Tsafendas’ entry into the country due to his “radical” and communist tendencies.
It was only after he had bribed an official and “renounced” Communism in the early 60s that he was allowed entry into South Africa.
The writer says Tsafendas had all along been toying with the idea of either bombing the South African Parliament or stabbing Verwoerd.
As part of his plan, he had gotten a job at Parliament as a messenger.
For his troubles Tsafendas was severely tortured by the apartheid police and served an indefinite time in prison – serving time in places like Robben Island, Pretoria Maximum, Sonderwater, and ultimately landing at the Sterkfontein Hospital,
On Robben Island he was kept “very” far from the hordes of other political prisoners and only spent about six to eight months there before he was moved to another prison.
The book notes that even though in the 50’s Tsafendas had joined the Communist Party of South Africa and while in the UK had acquaintances like exiled ANC Tennyson Makiwane, no party claimed responsibility for his killing of Verwoerd.
His family had also suffered a great deal for his act and was heavily ostracized in the white community – sometimes spending months indoors without going out.
Tsafendas lies buried in an unmarked grave and seemingly forgotten. But his name will live forever and theories continue to rage as to why he killed Verwoerd.
• The book according to the author should be available from leading bookshops countrywide. Following the Soweto another launch took place Thursday evening at the Apartheid Museum where Minister of Justice Mike Masutha was expected to deliver a lecture.