Despite their stark differences within their actions, legacies, and views, Hendrik Verwoerd and Nelson Mandela possessed, to certain extents, similar ideas about race and its ideals in South Africa. Both individuals, according to their writings, aspired for the self-sufficiency and independent welfare opportunities for all races in South Africa. Mandela, like Verwoerd, justified the presence and benefits of the white race in South Africa by accounting for some of their advancements in education and technology. Within a wider range of topics on race, it is obvious that Verwoerd and Mandela had highly contrasting ideas on race. Verwoerd believed that races should be segregated and rigidly defined, while Mandela believed that all races should work together, ensure the equal rights of one another, and that all races can be defined with flexible definitions.
Verwoerd and Mandela were each seen as charismatic leaders that effectively articulated their aspirations for the greater well-being of all races in South Africa. Of course, Verwoerd and Mandela had their own ideas regarding their paths to such aspirations, yet they might have both agreed that their respective races deserved self-sufficiency without any risks for conflict against one another. For instance, Verwoerd, in his 1950 address to the Native Representative Council, talks about “Bantu” (the word Verwoerd used to refer to South African peoples defined as “black” under apartheid policies) urban populations and the need for them to obtain their own businesses, homes, and healthy families (under hindering apartheid rules that Mandela would disagree with, of course). Mandela, throughout his autobiography, wrote about respecting other races by means of not interfering with other races’ affairs and their paths to prosperity. Mandela, in certain contexts, would have thus agreed with Verwoerd on the idea that different races should have unfettered paths to their own goals. Indeed, both used this similar argument to convince their respective audiences of the credibility of their ideas behind race.
In addition to similar hopes for all races to be independent from needing the assistance of other races, Verwoerd and Mandela both acknowledged that the white race (in reference to a variety of Europeans) brought advanced technological and educational systems. Even though the acknowledgements were made towards different audiences and within different contexts, Mandela and Verwoerd exhibited a similar idea about how the arrival of one or more races can benefit different aspects of society. Mandela, through his schooling in institutions that taught European students, European school subjects, and European ways of thought, came to realize that the social doctrines and modern sciences that Europeans practiced were integral for his country to gain a potential economy and host a diversely intellectual population. Furthermore, in his autobiography, Mandela talks about South Africa’s capability to raise its own standards of living by means of introduced European bureaucracies and technologies. Mandela finally makes an important point concerning his identity; the white race rendered him into a leader that created a lasting legacy for his country and for the world. Ultimately, Verwoerd and Mandela have discussed to their audiences the advantages of the white race bringing about helpful technologies and advanced educational methods. If another race were to arrive to South Africa and introduce advancements within other fields, perhaps Mandela and Verwoerd would justify the presence of such a race just as they did for the white race.
Even though Verwoerd and Mandela would agree on some ideas about race, they would ultimately disagree on the implementation of those ideas and the classification of racial identities. Verwoerd believed that all races should be segregated from one another in society for reasons of safety, self-sufficiency, and the prevention of conflicts. Mandela believed in the opposing notion that all races should not be segregated and thus be treated equally under one tolerant authority. Furthermore, Mandela explains that the cooperation of races would also yield safety, self-sufficiency, and the prevention of conflicts by means of different races diligently looking out for one another, becoming unified actors under one market, and working together under their own self-interests. This would develop a growing economy that disregards race in its societal systems. In addition to their conflicted ideas on race segregation, the concept of race was rigidly defined by Verwoerd and flexibly defined by Mandela. Verwoerd despised the idea of race becoming a heterogeneous term. Verwoerd preferred that all whites only marry other whites and only have white children. Verwoerd encouraged whites to not engage in relationships with other races. Mandela, on the other hand, established himself as a man influenced by all races in South Africa. His relationships with white lawyers, Indian activists, Black family members, American journalists, and Asian travelers are some of the many people that shaped Mandela’s thoughts on race. Mandela’s experiences within his village, his schools, his law office, and Robben Island turned Mandela into a man that cannot be defined by static definitions. Indeed, Mandela outlined his several identity crises in his autobiography. First, he was a member of the Xhosa. Subsequently, he viewed himself as a South African, followed by his self-descriptions as an African who identifies with the entire continent. His experiences in school and his initial job as a law clerk soon changed his mind about applying strict meanings to his racial identity, and the critical time he advocated for flexible definitions of race was when he was released from jail in 1990. Mandela called for races to mix in all senses, and encouraged formerly segregated races to treat one another as they would treat themselves. Indeed, Mandela’s messages behind race were inspirational to many.
Mandela and Verwoerd would seemingly agree that all races should receive opportunities for independent welfare. Moreover, both leaders similarly describe the arrival of the white race’s advancements in technology and education to certain extents. Nonetheless, Verwoerd and Mandela were essentially opposite thinkers, for Verwoerd wanted to strictly separate races while Mandela wanted all races to mix and be treated equally under one government amongst the inherited security of a tolerant and diverse population.