Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last white president and head of the government of South Africa in 1989-94, brought about the end of the apartheid system in the country, opening it to democracy through free election. In 1990, he conditionally released Nelson Mandela imprisoned for life.
Having been awarded the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize (1991) and the Prince of Asturias Award (1992), in 1993 he won the Nobel Peace Prize together with Nelson Mandela. A year later he received the American Anti-Defamation League Award for his contribution to human relations improvement and to human rights development.
De Klerk was born in 1936 to a senator’s family, descendants of the French Huguenots who came to the Cape of Good Hope in the late 17th century. Lawyer by education, he entered the Parliament in 1972 as a deputy of the National Party. From 1978 onwards, he headed several government departments, e.g. Posts and Telecommunication, Internal Affairs, and Education, at which point he favoured racial segregation at universities.
In 1989, he became the leader of the National Party and in his address he called for non-racist South Africa and for negotiations on the future shape of the country. Having become South Africa’s President in August, he lifted the ban on the African National Congress, a freedom organization of the black population. Over the last days in office, he granted amnesty to some members of the white conservative parties, pardoning several others sentenced to death.
After the 1994 election, he became Deputy President and used the position to attract foreign capital to the country, assuring business people that South African government was not to yield to populist claims and would implement a sane economic policy. After 45 years of international isolation, South Africa, the best developed country on the continent, was considered ‘a potential driving force’ for whole Africa.
In 1995, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu was established in order to dispense justice after the crimes committed by the segregation system in South Africa. Among others, the Minister of Defence, Gen. Magnus Malan and 10 officers were accused of having slain 13 black activists in KwaZulu-Natal in 1987 as well as forming paramilitary forces meant to support the Zulu nationalist Inkhata against ANC. In their conflict over 15,000 people were killed from 1985 onwards. De Klerk claiming that the accused should be found not guilty explained that the National Party and he himself had personally controlled the security forces ‘fighting against insurgency, against people placing bombs in public locations, putting necklaces on other people’ (tyres filled with petrol and set on fire after having been put round the enemy’s neck). After a 7-month trial the accused were acquitted.
In 1996, after the new South African Constitution had been adopted, de Klerk stepped down from office and withdrew the National Party from the government coalition. He criticized ANC for having been tenacious when working on the Constitution and its editing, In his view, Africa was going to a pay a very high price for it, as in his opinion it opened way to a new model of ‘the majority domination’.
In 1997, he resigned as NP President and retired from politics. In 1998, six days after the divorce with Marike de Klerk, his wife of 39 years, he married Elita Giorgiades, former wife of a Greek shipping tycoon.
A year later, TRC which had heard the testimony of about 20, 000 victims of apartheid, declared the system to have been a crime against humanity. In the report submitted to Mandela former members of the white minority government and ANC fighting for equal rights were accused of violating human rights. The day before the report was released to the public, fragments related to De Klerk were censored; these including his attempt to cover up the series of bomb attacks on the seats of COSATU, South African trade union organization, and of the South African Council of Churches in the late 1980s.
In 1999, de Klerk established a foundation in his name whose mission is ‘to defend the constitution and promote peace in multicultural societies’.
In the summer of 2001, de Klerk’s former wife, 64-year old Marike, was killed by the security guard of the condominium she lived in. That was the time when South Africa was struck with a high crime rate. In 2000, about 21,000 people were murdered. According to the UN data, in 1998-2000 South Africa ranked as world’s second as for assaults and murders per capita. The white population began to move out of city centres and close themselves in walled-up condominiums. Attacks on Afrikaners’ farms continued: over 3 years the number of victims among farmers, their family members, and workers in ca. 3,500 assaults, totalled 540.
Last April, de Klerk said on CNN: ‘I have apologized for apartheid victims, but not for the idea of a separate equal nation state’. He emphasized that the very idea for various nations to be living in their own separate countries was not bad in its essence and he once again stated that South Africa represented a new ‘model of majority domination’. Previously he had criticized South African democracy as sick, claiming that in his view the leaders of the excessively powerful ANC had lost their moral judgment.
The system of racial segregation was introduced in 1948 by the ruling National Party. Over an area covering some dozen per cent of the country’s territory, several Bantustans were delineated for the three quarters of the country’s population to move into. The majority of the country, with gold and diamond mines, as well as the large cities, was to remain the property of at most a fifth of the country’s population. namely white South Africans. It was the country into which the black people from the Bantustans were allowed only as labourers, with an appropriate passport which they had been obliged to have already starting from 1923.
Called the ‘South African Gorbachev’, in the period of the preparation for the compromise, de Klerk could see that the country was going through a crisis. 17 million of black South Africans being arrested for contravening the ban on settling down in towns did not stop the inflow of the black population. ‘We were on the straight way to a total clash which would reduce everything to ashes’, he explained in 1994.
It is currently thought that apartheid collapsed first of all due to the greed of the white South Africans: they allocated to themselves too big a portion of the country; taking advantage of the black population as labour force, they refused to grant them equal rights. ‘What we wanted was a separate state of equal nations, instead we succeeded in accomplishing just the separation’, he admitted in the interview after which there were voices in South Africa claiming that de Klerk, who was not greatly liked by the black population or respected by Mandela, should return his Nobel Peace Prize. ‘He rejected apartheid not because it was an unjust and criminal system, but only because it was too costly and unaffordable’, was one of the comments.
The Afrikaners, too, consider de Klerk a traitor: ‘if he had so strongly believed in apartheid, it is a great pity that while negotiating with Mandela, he did not make an effort to establish a separate state for the Afrikaners’. Instead of the Volkstaat: the national state of the descendants of the Dutch, German, and French settlers who came to the remote tip of Africa in 1652-1795 and created a new language, maintaining their identity during the inflow of the British, the Afrikaners have today protected condominiums. Like in Kleinfontein in the suburbs of Pretoria. ‘In order to survive, this little enclave excludes itself from democracy’, de Klerk alarmed CNN in late May.
It was also in May that The F.W.de Klerk Foundation accepted the apology of dj Kemo Waters, calling himself ‘a spiritual leader’, who had tweeted six months before ‘that the only way to end racism is to kill a material number of whites’.
Monika Klimowska (PAP)
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