South Africa: F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era leader, is dead at 85

By The Africa Report
Posted on Thursday, 11 November 2021 11:35

South Africa's former president Willem de Klerk arrives at news conference ahead of the 13th World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in Warsaw
South Africa's former president Frederik Willem de Klerk REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The last president of South Africa under its apartheid system, Frederik Willem de Klerk, has died at the age of 85 following a battle with cancer. Although he leaves behind a mixed legacy, he and Nelson Mandela were jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in ending the apartheid regime and steering the country onto the path towards democracy.

Dave Steward, the spokesperson for the FW de Klerk Foundation confirmed his death to South African News24 today. “The former president died earlier this morning at his home in Fresnaye after his struggle against cancer. He was 85-years-old. He is survived by his wife Elita, two children Susan and Jan, and his grandchildren.”

Political life

De Klerk was the head of South Africa from September 1989 until May 1994. He became one of the country’s two deputy presidents following the first multi-racial, democratic election held in April 1994.

He entered Parliament in 1972, having trained as a lawyer and winning his seat in Vereeniging (formerly in Southern Transvaal).

He succeeded PW Botha as the leader of the National Party in February 1989 after Botha suffered a stroke and consequently resigned from the party. De Klerk became president seven months later after Botha quit the post.

Steps towards change

On 2 February 1990, one year after taking over as the National Party leader, De Klerk delivered a speech to Parliament whereby he announced that he was ending the ban on the ANC, and other liberation movements. He also announced that he was releasing Nelson Mandela unconditionally.

His reforms included the unbanning of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and other anti-apartheid organisations. It also included the release of political prisoners, including Mandela, and the end of the state of emergency and a moratorium on the death penalty.

According to his foundation, De Klerk’s a speech marked the “official end of segregation policies and the official start of the negotiations” ultimately put in motion the steps towards ending the apartheid system and ushering in a multi-party system, thereby paving the way for South Africa’s first democratic election under universal suffrage.


While he is credited with having set in motion change in South Africa, he is considered to be a man of contradictions. His efforts to end apartheid – a system that destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of South Africans – allowed many apartheid chefs to make their apologies and then walk away.

A devout Christian, he told the LA Times in 1992 that apartheid was not intentionally evil. “Yes, we have made mistakes. Yes, we have often sinned and we don’t deny this…But that we were evil, malignant and mean–to that we say ‘no.’”

Despite such remarks, he, along with Nelson Mandela ‘Madiba’  were both given the Nobel prize along,

We will be updating this as more news comes in

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