Verwoerd carpet rolled up for good

The carpet that for many years carried visible stains of the blood from the stabbing of South Africa’s apartheid Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd has been removed from the Old House of Assembly at Parliament in Cape Town.

Verwoerd was stabbed to death in the Assembly on September 6 1966 by parliamentary service officer Dimitri Tsafendas, who escaped the death penalty on the grounds of insanity. Tsafendas’s motive for killing Verwoerd remains unclear.

The parliamentary official in charge of maintenance matters, Lionel Klaassen, confirmed that the Old Assembly carpet—in the traditional green that reflects the colours of the House of Commons—has just been replaced. He had not been aware that it was the “Verwoerd” carpet but he said it was replaced “because it really looked shabby”.

A former veteran liberal politician and the then Progressive Party’s sole MP, Helen Suzman, on Wednesday said she wondered what “had been swept under it over the years”.

“I think it was pretty worn, you know,” said Suzman, who said she did not think that it should be retained for posterity in a museum. Klaassen said the carpet had “been dumped”.

Suzman said she had not actually seen the stabbing—which she described as “grim”—but she had been in the House that day.

“I was busy reading a letter, the bells were still ringing and members were streaming into the House.”

She had not caught sight of Tsafendas as he had been dragged out of the chamber and handed over to police by fellow MPs. She had been alerted to Verwoerd’s plight by their shouts.

Part of the ongoing maintenance of Parliament is the removal of old carpets in the lobby outside the old House of Assembly chamber—which has been in constant use since the formation of the Union in 1910—and the restoration of the original marble floor.

The Old Assembly is often used for ruling African National Congress caucus meetings as well as parliamentary portfolio committee meetings.—I-Net Bridge

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