South Africa’s last apartheid president Willem de Klerk has died at the age of 85, and he quite a visible dent on the political environment in the African country.
The former South African president was declared dead in a statement released by the FW de Klerk Foundation [Source]. The statement posted on Thursday by the Foundation said, “FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer.”
Before his death, the former national leader left a video in which he apologized to all victims of apartheid. The video was posted after he passed on, and he lamented due to the pain caused by self-proclaimed superior races on non-white ethnic groups during the apartheid era.
“I, without qualification, apologize for the pain and the hurt and the indignity and the damage that apartheid has done to Black, Brown, and Indians in South Africa,” as noted by Klerk [Source]. History shows that he apologized several times for 1948 to 1991 repressive policies.
He was born into an Afrikaners family, and his father was an apartheid senator who once served as an interim president. Klerk studied law before becoming a Member of Parliament in 1989 and held several ministerial positions until he became a president in 1989.
The staunch political leader shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela. The Prize was given to them to show great appreciation for their hand in leading the “miracle transition from the minority-white rule in the country.” This was a big achievement since other countries had to go to war to complete this transition successfully. It was a situation of enormous magnitude which caused intense bloodshed through wars and battles.
Willem de Klerk was key in instilling a democratic way amid the oppression and colonization mindset which dominated the country. He made a bold decision in 1990 in which he delivered a speech at the country’s parliament and introduced reforms that triggered the journey to democracy from apartheid. Concepts of apartheid are likened to slavery and colonialism in which certain evils were done, and human rights were violated deliberately by colonizers.
His reforms removed the ban on African National Congress and any anti-apartheid organizations, necessitated the release of prisoners, and “put a moratorium on the death penalty.” Mandela was released from prison through Willem de Klerk’s efforts. His speech was pertinent in ending segregation policies and inspired people to start negotiations that birthed constitutional democracy. The constitution brought equal rights among all races in South Africa.
During the presentation of his life-changing speech, several political members left the parliament chamber in shock and dismay. It appeared as if the president had betrayed their struggle and was supporting the opposite side. It is recorded that nine days later after his speech, Mandela was released and assumed the high throne after four years as South Africans voted for the first time.
Al Jazeera’s reporter, Fahmida Miller, commented on the relationship between Mandela and Nelson and said: “They were part of very important talks that led to the end of apartheid and a peaceful transition in South Africa.” She explained Klerk’s actions and said, “This was the apartheid leader that said apartheid would come to an end. He continued to have a good relationship with the African National Congress, in fact becoming a member later on”.
However, some views tend to undermine Klerk’s efforts in ending apartheid as it is argued that he was forced to do so by certain situations. Miller said, “South Africa was suffering from international sanctions; there were financial difficulties and protests and violence within the country. There almost was no choice but to end apartheid, according to some critics”.
She added that “FW de Klerk won’t necessarily be missed by many people, but he’s acknowledged for the role he played in terms of the democratic transition. However, there are also people today who say he never paid for what he was responsible for”. Many people seem to despise him for failing to stop political violence, which was witnessed in the pre-multi-racial elections in 1994.
But no one can dispute Klerk’s significance in bringing independence to South Africa.