Dimitri Tsafendas (1918-1999): Displaced Person, Sailor, Christian, Communist, Liberation Fighter, Political Prisoner, Hero Remembered by His Friends

24grammata.com /απόδημος ελληνισμός / αφιέρωμα: Τσαφέντας / Tsafentas (κλικ εδώ)

(Sometimes spelled Dimitri or Dimitrios Tsafendas)
The Assassination of the South African Prime Minister, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd
September, 1966

As told by Sheila Martin:   In the mid 1960s, “the truth” was in utter chaos in South Africa.  The coloured elders were revolting against the white workers for the racial barriers that were being enforced; and meetings were removed from some homes, and some were excommunicated.  Confusion reigned.  It was in this atmosphere that Demetrius Tsafendas appeared on the scene.

A vagrant named Demetrius Tsafendas arrived in South Africa and was looking for a wife.  One of the friends had given him the name and address of  Helen Daniels, the unmarried sister of my sister’s husband. He landed at her door, and as he claimed to be professing, he was taken into her Mother’s home.  My sister was living in the other half of the same house. They all shared a house that was divided into two dwellings. After my father died, I boarded with my sister, and all this took place at this time. I was working at a store. South Africa was a police state where you never said a word to anyone about how you thought or felt about the government of the country, or you might wind up in prison or lose your life.

Our first impression of Demetrius was that he was a mysterious character. He read his Bible constantly, but was never really in tune with the 2×2 doctrine.  He once prayed the Lord’s prayer in convention!  He tried to hose down some of the chickens on a hot day, stating that they were too hot.  He simply HAD to have the daily newspaper, and read it from cover to cover.  He would say that the government was doing far too much for the black race, and not providing enough for the poor whites. He claimed to have had a tape worm that would come up into his throat and torment him, which I think was probably a demon.

Demetrius had a kind face and was a quiet, gentle man, and I did not find him threatening in any way.  He was also a very restless man.  I think he was a lost individual, who drifted through life, taking chances to survive.  He once told me that his Greek father had him by a half-Greek, half-coloured lady.  They were not in a marriage relationship. [I later found out that he was actually born in Lourenco Marques, now called Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, on January 14, 1918, the illegitimate son of a white Greek man, Michaelatos Tsafandakis, from Crete and a “half-caste” African domestic worker named Amelia William of Mozambique.]  Some time later, his father married a pure Greek woman who did not want Demetrius.  His father gave him a large sum of money and basically told him to get lost.  He was only eight years old at the time.  He decided to travel the world, and became a stowaway to many countries, hiding on trains, boats etc.  Since children easily master accents and languages, it’s not hard to see how he could pick up many foreign languages.

He would tell us of the many places he had visited in his life, and he spoke eight languages fluently.  I worked late many nights, and when I got off work, it would be too late to go to the Wednesday night meeting.  I would come home and find Demetrius reading the newspaper, and I would question him on his world knowledge and travel.  Having never been abroad myself, I found his stories fascinating.  Many evenings I would visit with this man who spoke of his arrival in Greece in 1947, his conversion there and his baptism by John Micheleto.

After some time, and having shown no interest in the lady, he moved to the city of Cape Town, where I lived. He told us that he had a job as a messenger at the House of Parliament. This was a surprise, because foreigners were never employed there. Actually, he shouldn’t have been allowed into South Africa due to his race and alleged “communistic” leaning.  He was on the government “stop list” prohibiting entry.  The last time I saw Demetrius, I was waiting for a bus to go to meeting. He acted strange, saying he would join me, and then walking away; doing this a few times, very nervously.

On September 6, 1966, the Prime Minister of South Africa, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, a ruthless, heartless man some believed to be both evil and insane,  planned to pass another very cruel law against the already suffering blacks.  As he stepped forward to read his speech regarding the cruel new law, Demetrius Tsafendas met him and fatally stabbed him four times in the heart.  The speech and documents were covered with Verwoerd’s blood.

Demetrius Tsafendas was 48 years old at the time, and had been working less than a month as messenger in the Parliament. The murder appeared well planned.  The story was published in the “Argus” and “The Cape Times,” our daily newspapers.   The Star Newspaper of Johannesburg 9/6/66 said Tsafendas was reported to be unable to “give a single coherent reason for committing the murder.” It was also published in Time and Newsweek Magazines.***  Demetrius claimed  the reason he did it was because a tapeworm possessed him. The fact that the 2×2 group has no name, and no headquarters and  meetings were held in homes,  raised suspicion, as it resembled an underground business to the authorities.  I think Tsafendas used the 2×2 route because it offered the secrecy he so badly needed to carry out his commission.

Some workers and friends who had been in contact with Demetrius were called as witnesses for his trial, including my sister and brother-in-law, Merle and Peter Daniels, who currently reside in Ontario, Canada;  Jimmy Johnson, the (now deceased) head worker of South Africa at the time; and also Mr. & Mrs. Pat O’Ryan**, now living in the Lansdowne, Cape Province, South Africa. The trial lasted only one day. Even after the murder, I could not feel afraid of Demi.

The friends and workers were optimistic that the workers would have the opportunity to tell their story of going out to preach like the early disciples.  We were excited over this wonderful opportunity to spread the gospel, to tell about this marvelous truth that they preached, while the whole world watched on television!  However, to our shock and surprise, the head worker, Jimmy Johnson,  proceeded to tell how the group practiced segregation, and how he had been concerned as to which meeting this man should attend, not knowing for certain Demetrius full origin.  Can you imagine the reaction of my work associates the next day??  None of their churches practiced racism!  A sign outside the Catholic church read, “All Races Welcome.”

Demetrius was ruled insane and detained at Pretoria Central Prison.  The December 31, 1996 Electronic Mail & Guardian  ran an article titled:  “Where are they now?”  In this article, reporters take a look at some of the people who were in the news in the past, whose fame has faded.   Regarding Tsafendas, it said:

“The man who assassinated apartheid architect Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, Dimitrio Tsafendas (79), is at Sterkfontein Mental Hospital near Krugersdorp, to which he was released after decades in Pretoria Central Prison.  His doctor says he is ‘quite frail’ and suffers from ‘cardiac complaints.’  His mental state ‘has not changed.  It is the same as it has always been.’”

I heard that there was a book written about Demetrius concerning the assassination; and apparently his name is on the cover, or in the title, but I have not seen it or been able to get any information about it.  An article in an Africaan publication, Beeld,  contains a reference to a book written in 1967 about Verwoerd & Tsafendas.  The title isn’t given but the author is J.J.J. Scholtz.  Possibly this is the book. One news account said:

“Demetrius Tsafendas came to England in 1959 and  was offered a job by a British man who owned the Rothmans cigarette factory.  In 1960 he mentioned the fact that he wished he had the opportunity to kill S.A. Prime minister. The owner, Anton Rupert, picked up on this, and this is how it got the ball rolling. The murder plot members met at a meeting in Birmingham in March, 1963.  There they decided on the assassin’s assignment. He was paid 5000 Rand. He would remain in England, until ‘Time Magazine American,’ would print a picture on its front page of Dr. Verwoerd in the form of a lamb dripping with blood, and that would indicate the time had come to start proceedings.”

The man who irrevocably changed the course of South Africa’s history, Tsafendas, died on Thursday, October 7, 1999. He was suffering from pneumonia, a condition aggravated by chronic heart disease at 81 years of age.
Reportedly, the plaque on his grave reads:
Dimitri Tsafendas 1918-1999
Displaced Person, Sailor, Christian, Communist, Liberation Fighter, Political Prisoner, Hero
Remembered by His Friends
In the mid 1960s, there was an uprising of the 2×2 colored elders who got together and protested segregation in meetings. One of the elders personally checked with government officials regarding churches being subject to segregation in worship services and received an official document stating the government did not interfere with religious gatherings:

“He was assured that this was not the law, and he also received a written document stating the law in effect at that time.  However, none of the white workers would read it when he showed them! Then, in the mid 1960s, some alarming events began to take place in the meetings. The coloured (mixed race) Elders revolted against the white workers for the racial barriers that were being enforced, and their abuse and misuse of authority.  Meetings were removed from some homes, and some were excommunicated.  It was utter chaos.

“After receiving orders from the workers to do so, some elders threw people out of their Sunday morning meetings. One young mother was put out in this manner, and left with her small children, who were afraid and crying and didn’t know what was happening. Her husband wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and he and his wife and their seven little children kept coming back to the meetings.  They insisted that it was God’s meeting, and would sit outside the meeting on the porch so that those passing by could see that they were outcasts. Then, as all the people came out, they would greet them.  They were eventually reinstated, probably to keep them from stirring up any more trouble!

“I professed at 15, and when I gave my testimony, people used to close their Bibles because I was born of the wrong spirit, they said. My father was involved in the revolt, and one of the workers approached me at the death of my father and told me that if my dad had still been involved in the revolt to the end of his life, he could not bury him.” (Memories of Sheila Martin)

Eddie Barrendilla, a colored worker, who vocally opposed segregation was soon shipped off to the United States to preach.   And because he found the situation there no better, Eddie formed a black convention at Scrabble, Virginia, “so the blacks would not have to suffer abuse from the whites.”  It was owned by the Clarks (white) and was later bought by the Gillises (a white couple).  In recent years, the name of the convention has been called “Boston.”  It is near Roanoke, VA.  It has been reported, but the author has not confirmed it, that whites attend the Boston convention, but that attendance at the other two Virginia conventions is “lilly-white.”

“Every time Eddie came back to South Africa for a visit, an uproar occurred. The white workers dreaded Eddie’s outspokenness when Eddie returned on his 5-year visits from America. On one of his visits, he attended the convention and stood at the back of the convention to preach, telling the people that it was there that he and other black workers had to preach from when he first went into the work in South Africa. They often tried to pacify him, through his sister, Gertie Barendilla, who was also in the work. Eddie was very young when he went into the work, maybe even 18. His sister was 17.

“Every year, a well known elder protested the segregation of the different races in the meetings.  He refused to sit down during open meetings and had a lengthy scripture as to why God wants His people to be ONE. He never got angry– just smiled and made his little speech.” (Memories of Sheila Martin)

Imagine the reaction of the black and colored friends and workers when they discovered the white workers had lied to them!!  When they realized that the 2×2 group practiced segregation because that was the way the workers wanted it—and not because they had to by law!!

“From the very start of the meetings in South Africa, even before segregation came in, the workers practiced racial segregation in their meetings–when the concept was still foreign to South African people.  That’s all I ever knew growing up in South Africa. They would later lie to the people, saying that it was a law to sit separately or mix during worship.

“They not only told lies, they sang them too…To add to our misery, we would all participate in that beautiful hymn at conventions. Hymn 335″. (Memories of Sheila Martin)

“In Christ, there is no East or West, In Him, no South or North.
‘Tis ONE the Shepherd’s sacred flock, Though scattered o’er the earth.

“As brothers, sisters of one faith, Whatever their tongue or race,
United stand, from bondage free, True monuments of grace.”

Fred Alder (now deceased) was an Englishman, who succeeded Wilson Reid, as the Headworker in South Africa for many years. Wilson died at 87 years of age and was buried in South Africa.

“Now, when the coloured elders got together to discuss the problems with the workers about the separation enforced at conventions, their argument was that when people from other churches came, this would be a hindrance for them, and they would not be able to see past this, that this way was ‘the truth.’ Fred Alder’s reply was, ‘If people are not prepared to come into the fold on these conditions (segregation), they can stay outside and perish.’

“The meetings had enforced segregation into their worship services all along, way before it became the law of the country.  They have now been forced through political pressure to sit mixed in the conventions, but the social or fellowship side of it still keeps to the old way of separation.” (Memories of Sheila Martin)

When a worker was asked if anyone outside the 2x2s had a chance to be saved, he answered that it was extremely unlikely, but it was just possible that one or two in the African outback might be saved if there was never any possibility of the workers going there.

In 1961,  Prime Minister Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd withdrew South Africa from the British Commonwealth.  He was considered to be the supreme architect of apartheid.  His philosophy was one of “divide and rule.”   He was assassinated on September 6, 1966, as he was about to deliver a speech to Parliament by a messenger named Demetrio Tsafendas, who stabbed him several times with a knife.   AND…