South Africa’s last white President, FW De Klerk dies at 85
South Africa’s last white president Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk died on Thursday morning at his home in Cape Town, the FW de Klerk Foundation said in a statement.
“Former President FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer,” the statement said.
He was 85 years old. He was born on 18 March 1936 and died on 11 November 2021). He was a South African politician, who served as state president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 and as deputy president from 1994 to 1996. As South Africa’s last head of state from the era of white-minority rule, he and his government dismantled the apartheid system and introduced universal suffrage. Ideologically a conservative and an economic liberal, he led the National Party from 1989 to 1997.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa to an influential Afrikaner family, de Klerk studied at Potchefstroom University before pursuing a career in law. Joining the National Party, to which he had family ties, he was elected to parliament and sat in the white-minority government of P. W. Botha, holding a succession of ministerial posts. As a minister, he supported and enforced apartheid, a system of racial segregation that privileged white South Africans.
After Botha resigned in 1989, de Klerk replaced him, first as leader of the National Party and then as State President. Although observers expected him to continue Botha’s defence of apartheid, de Klerk decided to end the policy. He was aware that growing ethnic animosity and violence was leading South Africa into a racial civil war. Amid this violence, the state security forces committed widespread human rights abuses and encouraged violence between the Xhosa and Zulu people, although de Klerk later denied sanctioning such actions. He permitted anti-apartheid marches to take place, legalised a range of previously banned anti-apartheid political parties, and freed imprisoned anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela. He also dismantled South Africa’s nuclear weapons program.
De Klerk negotiated with Mandela to fully dismantle apartheid and establish a transition to universal suffrage. In 1993, he publicly apologised for apartheid’s harmful effects, but not for apartheid itself. He oversaw the 1994 non-racial election in which Mandela led the African National Congress (ANC) to victory; de Klerk’s National Party took second place. De Klerk then became Deputy President in Mandela’s ANC-led coalition, the Government of National Unity.