Book launch: Family Betrayals

The Chair facilitated a discussion with Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd at the Belfast launch of “Verwoerd: My Journey through Family Betrayals” on 17 October 2019. The discussion focused on key aspects of the book, and particularly Dr Verwoerd’s challenges of coming to terms with the fact that HF Verwoerd, his grandfather, was the South African Prime Minister who is widely considered the architect of the apartheid system. Topics for discussion included key questions of the responsibilities of those who benefitted from the apartheid system, the question of “betrayal” when you take a different path to peacebuilding from those around you, as well as the relevance of the book to wider contexts.

Beyond rainbow-ism in South Africa

Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd addressing the audience with the painting “The Black Christ” in the background

On November 2019 the Chair hosted an important civic lecture on the Magee Campus. The lecture was given by Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa entitled “Beyond rainbow-ism in South Africa: a restitutional reading of the ‘Black Christ'”.

The intriguing title referred to a 1962 protest art work in which Albert Luthuli – then president of the African National Congress and Nobel Peace Prize winner – controversially replaces (a typically pale-skinned figure of) Jesus on the cross.  The then Minister of Justice, John Vorster, is portrayed as the soldier in the background, with Prime Minister Verwoerd as the centurion-with-the-spear.

In the lecture, as South Africa’s post-1994 dream of a “rainbow nation” is increasingly being challenged, Wilhelm treated this painting as an icon to help explore some of the deep wounds of the past that have not been fully recognised, let alone addressed, especially within the white “beneficiary community”.  Since the centurion-with-the-spear is also his grandfather he focused on the intergenerational challenge of restitutional shared responsibility with this relational dynamic in the foreground. The lecture was deeply moving and thought provoking, and is available online.

A New Dawn for South Africa?

Professor Hamber published today in the Irish Times a piece about the Presidential shifts in South Africa and the collapse of the Stormont Talks. The article begins “In a strange way the South Africa and Northern Ireland peace processes have always been linked. In the 1990s both were heralded as examples of how deep divisions could be overcome, and co-operation fostered between former enemies. Other connections were more direct, such as the former ANC lead negotiator and now new South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s role in the decommissioning processes as an inspector on behalf of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. Two decades later, however, both peace processes have lost their shine…”

To read the rest, click here.

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