The last white president of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize winner along with his bete noire, Nelson Madela, Frederik Willem de Klerk has died at the age of 85 at his home in Fresnaye, Cape Town. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs.
De Klerk who played a critical role in dismantling the system of apartheid will be remembered for his important contribution to South Africa’s peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy, including becoming deputy president as part of the government of national unity.
FW De Klerk came to power in 1989 at a unique juncture in history of not only south Africa but the humanity at large. He was both capturer and liberator of the legalised racism called apartheid where white was equated with right with scale of justice and fair play tilted very heavily against majority black.
De Klerk was instrumental in South Africa’s the transition to modernity. He ordered the anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela’s release from prison after 27 years who became the first black president after the historic polls.
In his last video message, released after he passed away, De Klerk said : “ 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”
During his life though, he was accused of playing down the seriousness of apartheid, after “not fully agreeing” with a statement that said apartheid was a crime against humanity. He was often described as an “apologist for apartheid” or an “apartheid criminal”.
Despite the fact that relationship between De Klerk and Mandela was often uneven the later described the man he succeeded as someone of great integrity.
While many hail him as a rare politician who helped to steer the country away from the racial civil war that many feared would engulf South Africa in those turbulent days, many other see de Klerk as a political opportunist who realised that with the Cold War over in late 80s, he had no alternative but to negotiate with the black majority.
De Klerk retired from politics in 1997.