Melanie Verwoerd

Political Speaker - Cape Town
Melanie Verwoerd


Melanie Verwoerd is a writer and political commentator.

Her best selling memoir, “When We Dance” was published in Ireland in November 2012. It was also published in South Africa in May 2013 under the title, “The Verwoerd who toyi-toyied”. Her next book, “Our Madiba: Stories and reflections of those who met Nelson Mandela” was launched in 2014 by Archbishop Tutu.

Melanie was born into an Afrikaner family and grew up during the height of Apartheid in South Africa. At the age of twenty she married Wilhelm Verwoerd, the grandson of the former Apartheid Prime Minister HF Verwoerd, generally regarded as the architect of Apartheid. After a brief spell at Oxford in the UK, she and her husband returned to South Africa in 1990 after the ANC was unbanned and Nelson Mandela released from prison.

Shortly after their return she met with Nelson Mandela, who encouraged her to “use her surname and voice for the bigger good”. She and her husband stunned many by joining the ANC. However, their political involvement also lead to them being ostracized by their community and numerous death threats from the far-right Afrikaner movements. During the first democratic elections in 1994, Melanie was elected as a Member of Parliament for the ANC under the presidency of Nelson Mandela. At the age of 27 she was the youngest female MP in the history of the South African parliament. She was re-elected in 1999 and in 2001 was appointed as South African Ambassador to Ireland. After her term of office ended in 2005 she was appointed as the Executive Director of UNICEF Ireland, a position she held until 2011.


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