FW de Klerk, South African president who oversaw end of apartheid, dies at 85

  • De Klerk stuns the world by abolishing apartheid
  • “I had a conversion” on apartheid, he says in posthumous video
  • He won the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993
  • Facing criticism from black and white nationalists
  • Death at 85 follows long battle with cancer

JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 11 (Reuters) – South Africa’s last white president, Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk, died on Thursday, leaving a final video apology for crimes committed against other ethnic groups over decades of ‘apartheid.

“I apologize, wholeheartedly, for the pain, the hurt, the indignity and the damage that apartheid has caused to blacks, brunettes and Indians of South Africa,” said de Klerk, who had previously expressed regret on several occasions for the 1948-1991. Politics.

De Klerk died at the age of 85 after a battle with cancer.

He won praise around the world for his role in suppressing apartheid and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993. The following year Mandela won South Africa’s first multiracial elections. with its African National Congress (ANC).

“Let me in this last post to share with you the fact that since the early 80’s my opinions have changed completely. It was like I had a conversion,” de Klerk said in the video post posted by its foundation a few hours after his death.

“And deep in my heart, I realized that apartheid was bad. I realized that we had come to a place that was morally unjustifiable,” he said, adding that measures had then been taken. taken to negotiate and restore justice.

It was not immediately clear when the recording was made.

In the video, De Klerk also warned that South Africa faces many serious challenges, including what he called an undermining of the constitution.

President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to de Klerk’s role in South Africa’s transition to democracy.

“He took the courageous decision (as president) to abolish political parties, release political prisoners and enter into negotiations with the liberation movement amid strong pressure to the contrary from many members of his political constituency, ”he said.

The Mandela Foundation said de Klerk would be “forever linked to Nelson Mandela in the annals of South African history.”

However, de Klerk’s role in the transition from minority white rule remains controversial.


Former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk arrives at a press conference a day before the 13th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Warsaw on October 20, 2013. REUTERS / Kacper Pempel / File Photo

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Many blacks were angered by his failure to curb political violence in the turbulent years leading up to the 1994 elections, while right-wing white Afrikaners, who had long ruled the country under de Klerk’s National Party, viewed him as a traitor to their causes of white supremacy and nationalism.

Its complex heritage was reflected in the reactions of South Africans.

“The time he was president and the actions he took part in to become president are bad, very bad, culpable. It was mass black genocide,” said Sihle Jwara, a student in Johannesburg.

“But at the same time, you have to look at the steps he has taken to change the country.”

De Klerk’s foundation said he passed away peacefully at his Cape Town home Thursday morning after a battle with mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the tissues that line the lungs.

His widow Elita and her family will announce funeral arrangements in due course, he said.

The founding of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a veteran of the white minority power struggle and considered by many to be the moral conscience of the nation, said de Klerk had “occupied a historic but difficult space in South Africa “.

He saw the need for change and “demonstrated the will to act,” he added.

John Steenhuisen, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s second largest party after the ANC, said de Klerk’s success in bringing with him most white voters on the need to abolishing apartheid had helped ensure a peaceful transition.

The DA is the ANC’s main rival but has struggled to shed its image as a privileged white party.

Julius Malema, who heads the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the country’s third largest political party, was much more critical, saying de Klerk should not be seen as a “former president” but as a ” former president of apartheid “.

Although he had long withdrawn from active politics, de Klerk angered supporters of President Jacob Zuma in 2016 when he accused them and their leader of seeking to defend their personal interests and democracy danger.

De Klerk again drew criticism last year when he told a national broadcaster he did not believe apartheid was a crime against humanity, as the United Nations declared.

The backlash forced de Klerk to withdraw from a virtual seminar in the United States, where he was scheduled to speak out on minority rights and racism.

Additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla and Wendell Roelf Editing by Gareth Jones, Jon Boyle and Andrew Cawthorne

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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