Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last president of apartheid South Africa, and the man who oversaw the transition to majority rule, died on 11 November 2021, aged 85. There was little in his background or early political career that suggested he would be the man to dismantle apartheid. As he rose through the National Party ranks, his posts included minister of the interior and minister of education before he became leader of the National Party in February 1989 and state president in August that year. Nevertheless the combination of internal opposition, international (including Commonwealth) pressure, and the ending of the Cold War convinced him that apartheid was unsustainable. In February 1990 he unbanned the ANC and other organisations, and he remained as deputy president for two years after the first democratic elections in April 1994. The previous year he and Nelson Mandela jointly received the Nobel peace prize.
De Klerk’s legacy remains a complex and contested one, and opinions are divided over the extent to which he genuinely underwent a change of heart on apartheid: he was criticised in later life not just for his actions as an apartheid minister, but for his refusal to acknowledge apartheid as a crime against humanity. Nevertheless after his death the F.W. de Klerk Foundation released a video in which de Klerk stated: “I, without qualification, apologise for the pain, hurt, indignity and the damage that apartheid has done to black, brown and Indians in South Africa … not only in my capacity as the former leader of the National Party, but also as an individual”.
Below we include links to an article which de Klerk wrote for this journal; and to commentary on his role in South Africa’s transition to democracy.
The Recent Election and the Zuma Presidency – F W De Klerk, Round Table Journal, 2010
The Commonwealth, Mandela and the Death of Apartheid – Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Round Table Journal, 2017
FW de Klerk: the last apartheid president was driven by pragmatism, not idealism – The Conversation Africa