A Bust That Set The Phone On Fire

Justin Pearce

“BUST of Hendrik Verwoerd. Price neg.”

The advertisement in the classified section of a Cape Town newspaper was followed by a Bellville phone number. Who, in these days of post-electoral ubuntu, would be dealing in icons of a type which have been banished even from parliament?

The Afrikaans-speaking woman who answered the phone didn’t want to give her name (“it might cause bad feelings in the family”). She’d sold the bust — sculpted by a relative at the time of Verwoerd’s assasination — to the first caller. She hadn’t fixed a price, but the caller “wanted it really badly” and made an offer of R350.

The offer came shortly after the advertisement had appeared in The Argus. An advertisement in the Afrikaans paper Die Burger had drawn no responses, but after the English ad, “my phone was on fire”.

“I had some ugly calls too — you wouldn’t believe the things some people said.”

The 35-centimetre bronze bust had been made by a relative, the sculptor Donovan van Zyl, at the time of Verwoerd’s assassination.

The woman explained that she is an avid collector of memorabilia, most of it kept in an SAP trunk belonging to her ex-policeman husband. But the couple are moving to a smaller home and are unburdening themselves of clutter, not without regrets.

“I always say it’s important to preserve the past.”

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