FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last white President, dies at 85




By Salim Yunusa


FW de Klerk, the last leader of apartheid-era South Africa who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela after working to end racial segregation in the country, has died at 85, his foundation said on Thursday.


De Klerk released Mandela, his subsequent successor, from prison and laboriously negotiated a transition to democracy, ending a decades-long segregationist system that kept South Africa’s White minority in power over the Black majority for generations.


The two men shared the peace prize in 1993 for their work to end the policy, but de Klerk remained a divisive figure in South Africa long after he left politics.


De Klerk died at his home in Fresnaye from mesothelioma cancer, the FW de Klerk Foundation said Thursday.

A deeply conservative politician whose party had long supported apartheid, de Klerk surprised his political clan and became an unlikely agent of change in South Africa during his five-year rule of the country.


He effectively announced the beginnings of a new country in one historic speech at the state opening of Parliament in 1990, revealing to a stunned nation that he would free Mandela, legalize anti-apartheid groups, end a national state of emergency and negotiate to end racial inequality in the country.


De Klerk’s political transformation, sparked by worsening racial tensions and the impending possibility of civil war, led him to be cast as a “traitor” by some conservative lawmakers.


De Klerk on a campaign rally at a school in 1994, the year he lost South Africa’s first multiracial election.

De Klerk on a campaign rally at a school in 1994, the year he lost South Africa’s first multiracial election.


It also marked the beginning of lengthy and tense negotiations, during which de Klerk and Mandela developed a complex relationship that occasionally resembled friendship but more often became strained, bitter and adversarial.


In 1993, de Klerk and other leaders ratified a new constitution that formally ended decades of racial segregation in South Africa.

De Klerk went on to lose South Africa’s first multiracial, fully democratic election to Mandela, before taking a post in the new government.


But after retiring from politics he made a number of conflicting comments about the era he helped bring to an end, and he leaves behind a complicated legacy in South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu paid tribute to his compatriot on Thursday, saying he “recognised the moment for change and demonstrated the will to act on it.”


“The former President occupied an historic but difficult space in South Africa,” a statement from Tutu’s office said. “Although some South Africans found the global recognition of Mr De Klerk hard to accept, Mr Mandela, himself, praised him for his courage in seeing the country’s political transformation process through.”

Culled from CNN

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