The death of the former South African President, Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last leader under the obnoxious apartheid regime and key actor in the country’s transition to multi-party democracy, on November 11, 2021, is a great loss to South Africa, Africa and the global community. Aged 85, De Klerk, according to the FW de Klerk Foundation, died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye, Cape Town, from mesothelioma cancer.

The former president reportedly left a final apology, in a video message released after his death, for the pain inflicted on non-white ethnic groups during the apartheid era. “I, without qualification, apologise for the pain and the hurt and the indignity and the damage that apartheid has done to Black, Brown and Indians in South Africa,” De Klerk said.

Born in Johannesburg on March 18, 1936, De Klerk graduated with a Law degree from Potchefstroom University in 1958 and then practised Law in Vereeniging in the Transvaal. Having joined the National Party (NP), to which he had family ties, he was elected to parliament and sat in the white-minority government of P. W. Botha, holding a several ministerial posts.

Under Botha’s administration, he held some ministerial posts, including Posts and Telecommunications and Sports and Recreation (1978-1979), Mines, Energy and Environmental Planning (1979-1980), Mineral and Energy Affairs (1980-1982), Internal Affairs (1982-1985), and National Education and Planning (1984-1989). In 1985, he became the chairman of the Minister’s Council in the House of Assembly.  As a minister, he supported and enforced apartheid, a system of racial segregation that privileged white South Africans over other races.

Following Botha’s resignation in 1989, De Klerk replaced him, first as leader of the NP and later as President. Although observers expected him to continue Botha’s defence of the apartheid policy, De Klerk decided to end the inhuman political system.  In his first speech after assuming the party’s leadership, he called for a non-racist South Africa and for negotiations about the country’s political future. At the country’s parliament, De Klerk delivered a speech announcing sweeping reforms that marked the beginning of the negotiated transition from apartheid regime to multi-party democracy.

Through the reforms, he lifted the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid organisations, and authorised the release of political prisoners, including South African nationalist and freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, who had then been in prison for 27 years. The speech marked the official end of segregation policies and the beginning of the negotiations that led to constitutional democracy which accorded equal rights to all South Africans. Four years later, Mandela was elected the country’s first Black President as Black South Africans voted for the first time. With the commendable move, De Klerk effectively dismantled apartheid and paved the the way for the drafting of a new constitution for the country based on the principle of one person, one vote.

After South Africa’s first universal democratic elections on April 27, 1994, De Klerk was appointed the Executive Deputy President to Mandela in South Africa’s Government of National Unity. He held the post until June, 1996 when his party withdrew from the government. For accepting the position of Deputy President in a bid to ensure smooth transition, after serving as President, De Klerk demonstrated his belief in the equality of all human beings and the unity of the country.  Because of the heroic role he played in stabilising democracy in South Africa, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize award with Mandela. Besides dismantling apartheid in South Africa, De Klerk would be remembered for many other worthy achievements.

His foresight to know that the era of racial discrimination in the country was coming to an end was remarkable. Even Mandela, who died in 2013, had praised De Klerk’s courage in dismantling the very system that incarcerated him for 27 years. De Klerk would be remembered as the one who set in motion structures for equality of man in South Africa.

We call on other African leaders to emulate the good qualities of the departed South African leader and statesman. His humility and accessibility while in power was unrivalled. We commiserate with his family, the people and government of South Africa on his demise.    

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Source: news