F. W. de Klerk

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Person.png F. W. de Klerk  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(Politician, Lawyer)
F W de Klerk.jpg
BornFrederik Willem de Klerk
18 March 1936
Johannesburg, Transvaal Province, Union of South Africa
Died11 November 2021 (Age 85)
NationalitySouth African
Alma materPotchefstroom University
Children • Jan Willem
• Susan
SpouseMarike Willemse
Member ofAfrikaner Broederbond, Global Panel Foundation/Board of Advisors, The Prague Society
PartyNational Party
RelativesJohannes de Klerk
last state president of apartheid-era South Africa.

Employment.png President of South Africa

In office
15 August 1989 - 10 May 1994
EmployerSouth Africa
Succeeded byNelson Mandela

Employment.png Deputy President of South Africa

In office
10 May 1994 - 30 June 1996
Serving with Deputy President Thabo Mbeki

Frederik Willem de Klerk was the last state president of apartheid-era South Africa and also leader of the National Party (which later became the New National Party) from February 1989 to September 1997.

President F W de Klerk brokered the end of apartheid, South Africa's racial segregation policy, and supported the transformation of South Africa into a multi-racial democracy by entering into the negotiations that resulted in all citizens, including the country's black majority, having equal voting and other rights. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with Nelson Mandela for his role in the ending of apartheid.

De Klerk was one of the deputy presidents of South Africa during the presidency of Nelson Mandela until 1996, the last white politician to hold the position to date. In 1997 he retired from active politics but continues to remain active as a lecturer internationally.[1]

In January 2015 a proposal by the Democratic Alliance, the largest opposition party nationally and the most popular among white voters, to rename Table Bay Boulevard in Cape Town after F W de Klerk was widely criticised in South Africa. Tony Ehrenreich, who is part of Cape Town’s large mixed-race ‘coloured’ community and a former ANC candidate for mayor, called De Klerk "an accident of history who just happened to be the leader of the National Party and was forced to negotiate with the ANC. If a monkey had been standing next to President Mandela he would also have received a Nobel Prize."[2]

Background and early career

De Klerk was born in Johannesburg, in the then Transvaal Province of the Union of South Africa, to Johannes de Klerk and Hendrina Cornelia Coetzer.[3][4] He came from a family environment in which the conservatism of traditional white South African politics was deeply ingrained. His paternal great-grandfather was Senator Johannes Cornelis "Jan" van Rooy.[5][6] His aunt was married to NP Prime Minister Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom. In 1948, the year when the NP swept to power in whites-only elections on an apartheid platform, F W de Klerk's father, Johannes "Jan" de Klerk, became secretary of the NP in the Transvaal province and later rose to the positions of cabinet minister and President of the Senate, becoming interim State President in 1975.[7] His brother Willem is a liberal newspaperman and one of the founders of the Democratic Party. From Monument High School in Krugersdorp, De Klerk graduated in 1958 from the Potchefstroom University with a BA and an LLB degree (the latter cum laude). Following graduation, De Klerk practised law in Vereeniging in the Transvaal. In 1959 he married Marike Willemse, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.[8]

"F W", as he became popularly known, was first elected to the House of Assembly in 1969 as the member for Vereeniging, and entered the cabinet in 1978. De Klerk had been offered a professorship of administrative law at Potchefstroom in 1972 but he declined the post because he was serving in Parliament. In 1978, he was appointed Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Social Welfare and Pensions by Prime Minister Vorster. Under Prime Minister and later State President P W Botha, he held a succession of 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). He became Transvaal provincial National Party leader in 1982. In 1985, he became chairman of the Minister's Council in the House of Assembly.

Ending apartheid

For most of his career, F W de Klerk had a very conservative reputation. The NP's Transvaal branch was historically the most staunchly conservative wing of the party, and he supported continued segregation of universities while Minister of National Education. It thus came as a surprise when in 1989 he placed himself at the head of verligte ("enlightened") forces within the governing party who had come to believe that apartheid could not be maintained forever. This wing favoured beginning negotiations while there was still time to get reasonable terms.

In February 1989, P W Botha resigned as leader of the National Party after an apparent stroke, and De Klerk defeated Botha's preferred successor, finance minister Barend du Plessis, in the race to succeed him. A month later, the NP caucus nominated De Klerk as state president. Botha initially refused to resign, saying that he intended to serve out his full five-year term, which expired in 1990. He even hinted that he might run for reelection. However, after protracted negotiations, Botha agreed to resign after the September 1989 parliamentary elections and hand power to De Klerk. However, Botha abruptly resigned on 14 August 1989, and De Klerk was named acting state president until 20 September, when he was elected to a full five-year term as state president.

In some of his first speeches after assuming the party leadership, he called for a non-racist South Africa and for negotiations about the country's future. A couple of months later, in February 1990, he suddenly lifted the bans on the African National Congress (ANC) and the Communist Party of South Africa, released Nelson Mandela and also many others who had been imprisoned solely on the grounds of their membership in the ANC or CPSA. In legislative terms, he enabled the gradual end of apartheid. De Klerk also opened the way for the negotiations of the government with the anti-apartheid-opposition about a new constitution for the country. Nevertheless, he was accused by Anthony Sampson of complicity in the violence between the ANC, the Inkatha Freedom Party and elements of the security forces. In "Mandela: The Authorised Biography", Sampson accuses De Klerk of permitting his ministers to build their own criminal empires.[9]

His presidency was dominated by the negotiation process, mainly between his NP government and Mandela's ANC, which led to the democratisation of South Africa. In 1992, De Klerk held a whites-only referendum, with the result being an overwhelming "yes" vote to continue negotiations to end apartheid.

In 1990, De Klerk gave orders to end South Africa's nuclear weapons programme; the process of nuclear disarmament was essentially completed in 1991. The existence of the programme was not officially acknowledged before 1993.[10]

Destroying the evidence

In a statement on the death of former president P W Botha in 2006, his successor, F W de Klerk, said:[11]

"Personally, my relationship with P W Botha was often strained. I did not like his overbearing leadership style and was opposed to the intrusion of the State Security Council system into virtually every facet of government. After I became leader of the National Party in February 1989 I did my best to ensure that P W Botha would be able to end his term as president with full dignity and decorum. Unfortunately, this was not to be."

In August 2007, F W de Klerk was challenged to say what he knew about the atrocities carried out at the behest of the SSC. The Guardian quoted De Klerk as replying that although he was a member of the cabinet it was not briefed "on clandestine operations involving murders, assassinations or the like – all of which were evidently carried out strictly on a 'need to know' basis".[12] The same newspaper report alleged that F W de Klerk, in his last months as president in 1994, ordered the wholesale shredding and incineration of tons of documents, microfilm and computer tapes that dealt with matters such as the chain of command in covert operations, like the Lockerbie bombing.[13]

Later life

In 1996, De Klerk was offered the Harper Fellowship at Yale Law School. He later declined, citing protests at the university.[14] De Klerk did, however, speak at Central Connecticut State University the day before his fellowship would have begun.

In 1998, De Klerk and his wife of 38 years, Marike de Klerk, were divorced following the discovery of his affair with Elita Georgiades,[15] then the wife of Tony Georgiades, a Greek shipping tycoon who had allegedly given De Klerk and the NP financial support.[16] Soon after his divorce, De Klerk and Georgiades were married. His divorce and re-marriage scandalised conservative South African opinion, especially among the Calvinist Afrikaners. In 1999, his autobiography, "The Last Trek – A New Beginning", was published. De Klerk successfully had a chapter from Marike's biography, "A Place Where the Sun Shines Again", dealing with his infidelity, censored.<refhttp://www.news24.com/Entertainment/SouthAfrica/FW-balked-at-Marikes-book-20101003</ref>

In 1999, De Klerk established the pro-peace F W de Klerk Foundation of which he is the chairman. De Klerk is also chairman of the Global Leadership Foundation which he set up in 2004, an organisation which works to support democratic leadership, prevent and resolve conflict through mediation and promote good governance in the form of democratic institutions, open markets, human rights and the rule of law. It does so by making available, discreetly and in confidence, the experience of former leaders to today's national leaders. It is a not-for-profit organisation composed of former heads of government and senior governmental and international organisation officials who work closely with heads of government on governance-related issues of concern to them.

On 4 December 2001, Marike de Klerk was found stabbed and violently strangled to death in her Cape Town flat. De Klerk, who was on a brief visit to Stockholm, Sweden, to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Nobel Prize foundation, announced he would immediately return to mourn his dead ex-wife. The atrocity was reportedly condemned strongly by South African president Thabo Mbeki and Winnie Mandela, among others, who openly spoke in favour of Marike de Klerk. On 6 December 2001, 21-year-old security guard Luyanda Mboniswa was arrested for the murder. On 15 May 2003, he received two life sentences for murder, as well as three years for breaking into Marike de Klerk's apartment.

In 2004, De Klerk announced that he was quitting the New National Party and seeking a new political home after it was announced that the NNP would merge with the ruling ANC. That same year, while giving an interview to US journalist Richard Stengel, De Klerk was asked whether South Africa had turned out the way he envisioned it back in 1990. His response was: :"There are a number of imperfections in the new South Africa where I would have hoped that things would be better, but on balance I think we have basically achieved what we set out to achieve. And if I were to draw balance sheets on where South Africa stands now, I would say that the positive outweighs the negative by far. There is a tendency by commentators across the world to focus on the few negatives which are quite negative, like how are we handling AIDS, like our role vis-à-vis Zimbabwe. But the positives – the stability in South Africa, the adherence to well-balanced economic policies, fighting inflation, doing all the right things in order to lay the basis and the foundation for sustained economic growth – are in place."[17] In 2008, he repeated in a speech that "despite all the negatives facing South Africa, he is very positive about the country".[18]

In 2006, he underwent surgery for a malignant tumour in his colon, discovered after an examination on 3 June. His condition deteriorated sharply, and he underwent a second operation after developing respiratory problems. On 13 June 2006, it was announced that he was to undergo a tracheotomy.[19][20][21] He recovered and on 11 September 2006 gave a speech at Kent State University Stark Campus.[22][23]

In January 2007, De Klerk was a speaker promoting peace and democracy in the world at the "Towards a Global Forum on New Democracies" event in Taipei, Taiwan, along with other dignitaries including Poland's Lech Wałęsa and Taiwan's president Chen Shui-Bian.[24]

De Klerk is an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society and Honorary Chairman of the Prague Society for International Cooperation.[23] He has also received the Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse from the College Historical Society for his contribution to ending apartheid.

De Klerk is also a Member of the Advisory Board of the Global Panel Foundation based in Berlin, Copenhagen, New York, Prague, Sydney and Toronto - founded by the Dutch entrepreneur Bas Spuybroek in 1988, with the support of Dutch billionaire Frans Lurvink and former Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek. The Global Panel Foundation is known for its behind-the-scenes work in public policy and the annual presentation of the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award with the Prague Society for International Cooperation.

After the inauguration of Jacob Zuma as South Africa's president in May 2009, De Klerk said he was optimistic that Zuma and his government can "confound the prophets of doom".[25]

In a BBC interview broadcast in April 2012, he said he lived in an all-white neighbourhood. He had five servants, three coloured and two black: "We are one great big family together; we have the best of relationships." About Nelson Mandela, he said, "When Mandela goes it will be a moment when all South Africans put away their political differences, will take hands, and will together honour maybe the biggest known South African that has ever lived."[26]


  1. "Changing the Course of History" from a March 2011 lecture in Walnut Creek, California
  2. "On De Klerk Boulevard"
  3. "Johannes (Jan) de Klerk" South African History Online
  4. A. Kamsteeg, E. Van Dijk, F.W. de Klerk, man of the moment. 1990
  5. http://www.vanrooy.org.za/b3_Jan.html
  6. J. Ball, F.W. de Klerk: the man in his time. 1991
  7. Johnson, Anthony. "Frederik Willem de Klerk: a conservative revolutionary." UNESCO Courier (November 1995): 22(2). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. Brandeis University. 12 March 2007. Thomson Gale Document Number:A17963676
  8. Abrams, Irwin, Nobelstiftelsen. Peace 1991–1995, 1999. Page 71.
  9. Sampson, Anthony; John Battersby (2011). Mandela – The authorised biography. HarperPress. pp. 439–40, 442–4, 478, 485, 511. ISBN 978-0-00-743797-9.
  10. http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/SAfrica/Nuclear/2149_3277.html
  11. "Statement by F W de Klerk on the death of former president P W Botha" (Issued by the F W de Klerk Foundation, Cape Town, 1 November 2006)
  12. "Apartheid-era murder of sleeping teenagers returns to haunt De Klerk"
  13. "Lockerbie: Ayatollah's Vengeance Exacted by Botha's Regime"
  14. Gold, Emily. (28 March 1997). "Ethical controversy forces de Klerk to decline honor". Yale Herald, 23. Retrieved 2012-5-29.
  15. http://english.people.com.cn/200112/06/eng20011206_86069.shtml
  16. http://www.peacenews.info/issues/2442/244220.html
  17. http://www.cfr.org/publication/7114/hbo_history_makers_series.html?breadcrumb=%2Fregion%2F151%2Fsouthern_africa
  18. http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=6&art_id=vn20081203053256125C466613
  19. http://www.news24.com/News24/South_Africa/News/0,,2-7-1442_1944991,00.html
  20. http://www.news24.com/News24/South_Africa/News/0,6119,2-7-1442_1948500,00.html%7C
  21. http://www.news24.com/News24/South_Africa/News/0,6119,2-7-1442_1950877,00.html
  22. https://web.archive.org/web/20060822234542/http://www.fwdklerk.org.za/speeches.php
  23. a b de Klerk, CNN World Africa, 2006-12-21.
  24. http://www.mofa.gov.tw/webapp/content.asp?cuItem=25192&mp=6
  25. http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=3086&art_id=vn20090513051442596C157812
  26. Interview by Stephen Sackur on Hardtalk, broadcast on BBC World Service 18 & 19 April 2012.

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