A mixed legacy | Political economics

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Frederik Willem de Klerk, who formally dismantled the apartheid system established by his ancestors and whom he presided over in South Africa, breathed his last at his home near Cape Town on November 11. He was 85 years old.

De Klerk was born in Johannesburg in 1936. In addition to his Afrikaner heritage, he was a descendant of Dutch and Huguenot settlers who arrived in southern Africa in the 17th century. Jan de Klerk, his father, was a member of the cabinet of three prime ministers. He was also President of the Senate. Hans Strijdom, an uncle, was a pro-apartheid prime minister in the 1950s. His grandfather, Willem, was a minister and a founding member of the National Party.

De Klerk studied law at Potchefstroom University for Christian higher education. Prior to joining PW Botha’s cabinet, he served in the administration of BJ Vorster and at times supported racial extremists in the party. As cabinet minister he stood up to Roelof F Botha in 1986 and asked him to withdraw his prediction that there might one day be a black president in South Africa.

Belonging to a prominent Afrikaner family, he fiercely defended racial separation throughout his long political career. In 1989, he astonished both his nation and the world by reassessing South Africa’s racist practices, which led him to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, whom he had released from jail.

In the 1980s, the world viewed South Africa as an outcast. Given the internal turmoil and the country’s damaged reputation, he stressed the need for a new course.

Despite the price of peace, many South Africans questioned his commitment to ending apartheid. He seemed to sidestep the question of how wrong the segregation had been. Because of his role as the right-hand man of PW Botha, his predecessor, it was nearly impossible for most black South Africans to see him as anything other than one of many repressive white leaders.

Apartheid had complex laws – from rights and privileges to the size of meals in prison based on skin color. Breaking free or ending it was not easy. It took centuries of legislative action and significant national angst.

In 1990, De Klerk lifted the 30-year ban on the African National Congress. He released one of its most prominent leaders, Nelson Mandela, from prison. This sparked a profound transformation and quickly knocked him out of the limelight..

In 1990, de Klerk lifted the 30-year ban on the African National Congress. He released one of its most prominent leaders, Nelson Mandela, from prison. It sparked a profound transformation and quickly took him out of the limelight. Four years after winning his freedom, Mandela won the presidential elections. Meanwhile, FW de Klerk has been invited to serve in his transitional government as second vice president. However, he struggled with his missing role and ultimately decided to leave it.

He later tried to transform the National Party from a predominantly white group into a multiracial group backed by the African National Congress (ANC). He had been created with the help of his grandfather. However, these efforts came to naught. He became enraged by internal party tensions and the denunciation of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which scrutinized the country’s past. In 1997, the last ruler of apartheid-era South Africa retired from politics.

Together, he and Mandela were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their joint efforts to remake the country. However, their relationship was much less cordial than it first appeared. In his autobiography, The last trek – A new beginningDe Klerk complained that he felt not only underestimated, but also disrespectful by Mandela during the awards ceremony.

“I was bubbling over,” he wrote of a candid speech Mandela gave in Norway after the awards ceremony. “It was only with the greatest mastery of myself that I again managed to bite my tongue and not once and for all break the illusion that there was a cordial relationship between me. and Mandela. “

“It was ironic that we both traveled so far to achieve the world’s highest honor for peace and reconciliation – when the relationship between us was characterized by so much vitriol and suspicion,” he added. .

In addition, in his autobiography, Long march to freedomMandela described his relationship with the late former president as a consequence of necessity. FW de Klerk’s legacy has come under new criticism as a new generation of black South Africans have found their voice.

After his death, the FW de Klerk Foundation released a video in which he clarified his position on apartheid, including addressing those who did not accept his apologies for racism, and once again apologizes, ” without reservation “. He is survived by his wife, Elita, and his children, Jan and Susan.

After dismantling apartheid and as the last white president to rule the country, FW de Klerk was well aware that he had undone much of the work that his ancestors had spent decades doing.


The writer is an independent contributor


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