South Africa’s Former President FW de Klerk Dies at 85

FW de Klerk, the last president of apartheid South Africa, has died at the age of 85.

He died on Thursday Morning at his home in Cape Town following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer, said FW de Klerk Foundation in a statement.

De Klerk was the head of state from September 1989 until May 1994 and became one of the country’s two deputy presidents after the first multi-racial, democratic election in April 1994.

On 2 February 1990, exactly one year after taking the reins as National Party leader, De Klerk announced to Parliament that he was unbanning the liberation movements including ANC and SACP, and that he was releasing Nelson Mandela unconditionally.

This led to a multi-party negotiation process between 1990 and 1994, paving the way for the democratic election.

De Klerk went on to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for helping to negotiate an end to apartheid. But his legacy divides opinion in South Africa.

‘Uneven legacy’

The relationship between De Klerk and Mandela was often punctuated by bitter disagreements, according to reports. Mandela, however, described the man he succeeded as someone of great integrity.

In a statement Today, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said De Klerk would “forever be linked to Nelson Mandela in the annals of South African history”.

“De Klerk’s legacy is a big one. It is also an uneven one, something South Africans are called to reckon with at this moment,” it added.

Many have blamed De Klerk for failing to curb violence against black South Africans and anti-apartheid activists during his time in power.

He testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on behalf of the National Party in August 1996 and May 1997, where his apology for apartheid was criticized as insufficient.

After his political career, he launched a foundation in his name, which sought to play a role in civil society as a watchdog and think-tank.

“Last Message”

Recently, De Klerk became mired in controversy.

In 2012, he defended aspects of apartheid during an interview with CNN and in 2020 he refused to concede that the system was a crime against humanity.

However, in a video of his “last message” to South Africans has been released by his foundation today, he said that he had on many occasions apologized for “the pain and indignity that apartheid has brought to persons of color in South Africa.

“Many believed me, but others didn’t,” he said.

“Therefore, let me today, in the last message repeat: I, without qualification, apologise for the pain and the hurt, and the indignity, and the damage, to black, brown and Indians in South Africa,” he said.

“Apartheid Criminal”

A foundation campaigning for justice for people, including children, killed by the former white-minority regime, denounced De Klerk as an “apartheid criminal”.

In a statement, the Fort Calata Foundation said that he had ordered a security raid in Mthatha city in 1993, which led to five children, among them twins, being killed in their sleep.

He also sat in on meetings of the apartheid regime’s State Security Council, which discussed the “fate” of prominent anti-apartheid activists Fort Calata and Methhew Goniwe in the 1980s, the statement said.

The two were killed in 1985 by the security forces, causing huge anger among black people in South Africa.

“It is sad that yet another apartheid criminal has died without having accounted for the crimes he perpetrated against our humanity,” the statement said.

He is survived by his wife Elita (68), whom he married in November 1998, son Jan (57) and daughter Susan (52). His son Willem died of cancer in October 2020 at the age of 53.

– Agencies


Featured Image Caption: Mandela succeeded De Klerk (Right) as president of South Africa in 1994. Both seen in the photo dated back to 2006 [Photo Reuters]

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