Wednesday, January 26

De Klerk of OBITUARY-SA negotiated the end of the white rule

South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk, who died Thursday at age 85, stunned the world when he abolished apartheid and negotiated a peaceful transfer of power to a black-led government under Nelson Mandela.

But while he was globally feted and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the revered Mandela, de Klerk only earned the scorn of many outraged blacks at his inability to curb political violence in the turbulent years leading up to the all-round elections. races in 1994.

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And many right-wing white Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch and French settlers who had long ruled the country under De Klerk’s National Party, saw him as a traitor to their causes of nationalism and white supremacy.

Frederik Willem de Klerk died at his home in Cape Town on Thursday, his foundation said, after a battle with mesothelioma cancer, which affects the tissue that lines the lungs.

De Klerk’s metamorphosis from apartheid servant to his wrecking ball mirrored that of Mikhail Gorbachev from the former Soviet Union. Both were good party men who rose to the top of power before going on to reform or dismantle the systems that had fueled them for decades.

The collapse of Gorbachev’s Soviet Union and communism in Eastern Europe helped pave the way for De Klerk to launch his own bold initiatives, as it removed the specter of the “Red Menace” that had haunted a generation of white South Africans. .

“The first months of my presidency coincided with the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe,” wrote de Klerk in his autobiography, “The Last Voyage: A New Beginning.”

“Within the scope of a few months, one of our main strategic concerns for decades disappeared,” he wrote. “Suddenly a window opened that created an opportunity for a much more adventurous approach than previously imagined.”

Less than three months after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, he paved the way for the end of more than four decades of apartheid with an explosive speech in parliament on February 2, 1990, which “lifted the ban” from the African National Congress ( ANC) and announced the release of its leader after 27 years behind bars.

Fearing a leak and backlash from right-wing whites, de Klerk had kept the momentous decision secret from all but a handful of cabinet ministers. Even his wife was in the dark until she and de Klerk headed for parliament.

At De Klerk’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2006, Mandela praised his predecessor for taking that leap into the political unknown.

“They have shown a courage that few have done in similar circumstances,” said Mandela, who died in December 2013 at the age of 95, less than six months before the 20th anniversary of the first all-race elections in South Africa.

The white dean went radical

A lawyer for a prominent Afrikaner political dynasty, the urban Klerk was cut from the fabric of the white apartheid government and was a member of the Broederbond, a secret Afrikaner society dedicated to white supremacy.

De Klerk began his parliamentary career in 1972 as a member of the right-wing mining town of Vereeniging and for several years was minister in charge of a school system that spent 10 times more on white children than on black children.

He challenged then-finance minister Barend du Plessis in the 1989 party election of a successor to apartheid hardliner PW Botha and then ousted Botha from the presidency in a cabinet coup a few months later.

Botha showed no remorse for apartheid until his death in 2006 at the age of 90.

De Klerk’s rise was seen as a consolidation of white rule and threatened to intensify the fierce racial conflict that had already killed more than 20,000 blacks.

“When he became head of the National Party, it seemed to be the quintessential party, nothing more and nothing less. Nothing in his past seemed to hint at a spirit of reform, “Mandela wrote in his autobiography,” Long Walk to Freedom. ”

Negotiations on a peaceful transition to non-racial democracy that followed Mandela’s release took place in the context of escalating political violence and often seemed derailed, a scenario that would almost certainly have plunged the nation into crisis. a bloody race war.

Black and white analysts said De Klerk was overly cautious in targeting right-wing security forces suspected of fomenting violence and being out of touch and misinformed about the horrific gun and spear attacks in black communities.

But peace prevailed in what many commentators call a “political miracle.”

Nobel Peace Prize

In 1993, de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, who the following year would win the presidency in the first multiracial elections in Africa’s largest economy.

After the vote, the National Party shared power in a “Government of National Unity” in which he served as vice president.

But the relationship between De Klerk, a heavy whiskey drinker, and the austere Mandela was often strained, and De Klerk retired from government in 1996, saying the ANC no longer valued his advice or guidance.

He retired from active politics in 1997 and later apologized for the miseries of apartheid to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“History has shown that when it comes to the politics of apartheid, our former leaders were deeply mistaken in the direction in which they embarked,” he said.

When he retired, he headed the FW de Klerk Foundation, dedicated to working for peace in multicultural societies.

He divorced his wife of 39 years, Marike, in 1998, and married Elita Georgiadis, the wife of a Greek shipping magnate.

In December 2001, Marike was murdered at her luxurious beachfront home in Cape Town, an incident that highlighted the rampant rates of violent crime in South Africa.

In an interview with Reuters in 1999, de Klerk said that South Africa faced a series of threats ranging from crime to rising unemployment and discontent among potential voters.

“There is growing disillusionment among all sectors of the South African population. All South Africans, all investors, all interested people in South Africa are deeply concerned about the crime rate. We need a breakthrough, ”he said.

However, ten years later, he tried to strike a more balanced tone, saying shortly after President Jacob Zuma came to power in 2009 that the polygamous Zulu traditionalist would “confuse the prophets of doom.”

He also seemed genuinely moved by Mandela’s death.

“Tata, we will miss you,” he said in a statement, using the affectionate South African term for the grandfather with whom Mandela was known.

As he walked away from Mandela’s body in state in Pretoria’s Union Buildings, where two decades earlier he had handed over power, de Klerk wiped a tear from his eye.

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