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State memorial service held for South African apartheid-era president FW de Klerk after his death


A state memorial service was today held for South Africa’s former President Frederik Willem de Klerk after he died from lung cancer aged 85 last month.  

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was among high-profile guests who paid tribute to De Klerk, who is known by his initials FW, at the memorial service at Groote Kerk church in Cape Town on Sunday. 

De Klerk, who oversaw the country’s transition from apartheid and shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, died from lung cancer at the age of 85 at his home in Cape town on November 11 after being diagnosed in March. 

De Klerk ensured his place in history when on February 2, 1990, he announced Mandela’s release from 27 years in jail and lifted the ban on black liberation movements, effectively declaring the death of white-minority rule.

De Klerk was a controversial figure in South Africa as many blamed him for violence against Black South Africans and anti-apartheid activists during his time in power, while some white people saw his efforts to usher in a post-apartheid democracy as a betrayal.  

De Klerk, who oversaw the country's transition from apartheid and shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, died from lung cancer at the age of 85 at his home in Cape town on November 11 after being diagnosed in March. Pictured: Mandela and de Klerk pictured together in Cape Town in 2006

De Klerk, who oversaw the country’s transition from apartheid and shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, died from lung cancer at the age of 85 at his home in Cape town on November 11 after being diagnosed in March. Pictured: Mandela and de Klerk pictured together in Cape Town in 2006

De Klerk's wife Elita (centre) sits next to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (right) during the memorial service on Sunday

De Klerk’s wife Elita (centre) sits next to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (right) during the memorial service on Sunday 

A portrait of former South African President FW de Klerk is seen during his state memorial service at the Groote Kerk church in Cape Town on Sunday

A portrait of former South African President FW de Klerk is seen during his state memorial service at the Groote Kerk church in Cape Town on Sunday

During Sunday’s memorial service, De Klerk’s wife Elita said the former President ‘could not find peace in this horrendous system’ of apartheid. 

She said: ‘FW was a man of long planning. Once he knew what he wanted to achieve he planned it meticulously. 

‘He was torn between intellect and emotion. His emotion for the paid the country was going through. He could not find people in this horrendous system. This had affected him psychologically.’ 

Elita said De Klerk was always concerned about the new South Africa after apartheid. 

She added: ‘My love for him will keep him by my side.’ 

During Sunday's memorial service, De Klerk's wife Elita said the former President 'could not find peace in this horrendous system' of apartheid

During Sunday’s memorial service, De Klerk’s wife Elita said the former President ‘could not find peace in this horrendous system’ of apartheid

Former president FW de Klerk and his second wife Elita Georgiades at the FW de Klerk Foundation conference in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 25, 2012

Former president FW de Klerk and his second wife Elita Georgiades at the FW de Klerk Foundation conference in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 25, 2012

De Klerk apologised for the ‘pain and damage’ caused by apartheid in a sombre video released after his death last month.         

The former president admitted he had supported apartheid, or ‘separate development’ in his earlier years and during his time as a Member of Parliament in the ’80s before his ideals changed. 

‘I am often accused by critics that I in some way or another continued to justify apartheid or separate development, as we later preferred to call it. It is true that in my younger years I defended separate development,’ an ailing De Klerk says in the video.

‘Afterwards, on many occasions, I apologised to the South African public for the pain and indignity that apartheid has brought to people of colour in SA. Many believed me but others didn’t.’ 

‘I without qualification apologise for the pain and hurt and the indignity and the damage that apartheid has done to black, brown and Indians in SA,’ De Klerk said.  

An ailing FW de Klerk, the former President of South Africa, has apologised for the 'pain and damage' caused by apartheid in a sombre video (pictured) that was released after his death from lung cancer last month by his foundation

An ailing FW de Klerk, the former President of South Africa, has apologised for the ‘pain and damage’ caused by apartheid in a sombre video (pictured) that was released after his death from lung cancer last month by his foundation

Frederik Willem de Klerk, the former President of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 who oversaw the country's transition from apartheid, died aged 85 in November (de Klerk pictured in Feb 2020 at the opening of the South African Parliament)

Frederik Willem de Klerk, the former President of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 who oversaw the country’s transition from apartheid, died aged 85 in November (de Klerk pictured in Feb 2020 at the opening of the South African Parliament)

In this file photo taken on September 26, 1992, African National Congress president Nelson Mandela (R) greets State President of South Africa Frederik Willem de Klerk (L) shortly after arriving at the world trade centre for their summit on ways to prevent political violence

In this file photo taken on September 26, 1992, African National Congress president Nelson Mandela (R) greets State President of South Africa Frederik Willem de Klerk (L) shortly after arriving at the world trade centre for their summit on ways to prevent political violence

The FW de Klerk Foundation’s spokesperson confirmed the former president’s death at his home in Fresnaye, Cape Town, in a statement released last month.

‘It is with the deepest sadness that the FW de Klerk Foundation must announce that former President FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer.’

The president, who served from 1989 to 1994, is survived by his wife Elita, two children Susan and Jan, and several grandchildren. 

The Nelson Mandela Foundation reacted to the news of De Klerk’s death in a statement which said former presdient ‘will forever be linked to Nelson Mandela in the annals of South African history’.

‘De Klerk’s legacy is a big one. It is also an uneven one, something South Africans are called to reckon with in this moment,’ the statement added in reference to De Klerk’s efforts to dismantle apartheid but refusal to make a full accounting for the horrific violence that took place under his government’s earlier rule.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also paid tribute to South Africa’s last white president, praising him for his pivotal role in transforming the country.

‘I am saddened by the death of FW de Klerk, a leader who changed the course of history by freeing Nelson Mandela and working alongside him to end apartheid and bring democracy to South Africa,’ he said in a statement.

‘De Klerk will be remembered for his steely courage and realism in doing what was manifestly right and leaving South Africa a better country,’ he added.

FW de Klerk posing outside his office in Cape Town, South Africa March 18, 1992, while displaying a copy of a local newspaper with banner headlines declaring a "Yes" result in a referendum vote to end apartheid and share power with the black majority for the first time.

FW de Klerk posing outside his office in Cape Town, South Africa March 18, 1992, while displaying a copy of a local newspaper with banner headlines declaring a ‘Yes’ result in a referendum vote to end apartheid and share power with the black majority for the first time.

In this file photo taken on April 03, 1994 ANC President Nelson Mandela (R) and South African President Frederik W. De Klerk (L) walk to an Easter church service dedicated to peace, in Moria, South Africa

In this file photo taken on April 03, 1994 ANC President Nelson Mandela (R) and South African President Frederik W. De Klerk (L) walk to an Easter church service dedicated to peace, in Moria, South Africa

De Klerk stunned the world when he scrapped apartheid and negotiated a peaceful transfer of power to a Black-led government under Nelson Mandela.

But while he was praised globally and shared the Nobel Peace prize with the revered Mandela, de Klerk earned only scorn from many Blacks outraged by his failure to curb political violence in the turbulent years leading up to all-race elections in 1994. 

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

Born March 18, 1936 in Johannesburg, De Klerk was the son of a leading politician and from an early age was set to follow in his father’s footsteps.

He received a law degree from Potchefstroom University in 1958, and soon afterward established a successful law firm which he used as a springboard into local politics and current affairs.

By 1972, he had been elected to Parliament as a member of South Africa’s National Party and a quickly excelled, overseeing a variety of departments including mines and energy affairs, internal affairs, and national education and planning.

He was elected leader of the House of Assembly in 1986, and after sitting president Pieter Willem Botha fell ill in early 1989, De Klerk became the President of South Africa on September 14 of the same year.

Botha showed no remorse for apartheid until his death in 2006 aged 90. 

‘When he became head of the National Party, he seemed to be the quintessential party man, nothing more and nothing less,’ Mandela wrote of him. 

‘Nothing in his past seemed to hint at a spirit of reform.’ 

But despite this, De Klerk quickly set about orchestrating South Africa’s transition away from a white minority government into democracy. 

FW De Klerk is pictured here visiting London in May 1990, just three months after he declared the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and ended the ban on the African National Congress, paving the way for a multi-racial democracy in South Africa

FW De Klerk is pictured here visiting London in May 1990, just three months after he declared the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and ended the ban on the African National Congress, paving the way for a multi-racial democracy in South Africa

De Klerk announced in 1990 he announced he was releasing anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela just five months year after he became president. He and Mandela jointly received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their collaborative efforts to usher in non-racial democracy in the country (pictured: Mandela (L) and De Klerk (R) at the reception of the peace prize in Oslo, Norway, 1993)

De Klerk announced in 1990 he announced he was releasing anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela just five months year after he became president. He and Mandela jointly received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their collaborative efforts to usher in non-racial democracy in the country (pictured: Mandela (L) and De Klerk (R) at the reception of the peace prize in Oslo, Norway, 1993)

De Klerk immediately began to strengthen and accelerate the constitutional reforms proposed by his predecessor despite strong opposition from the Conservative Party. 

De Klerk’s metamorphosis from servant of apartheid into its wrecking ball mirrored that of the former Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev. Both were good party men who rose to the pinnacle of power before moving to reform or dismantle the systems that had nourished 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 spectre of the ‘Red Menace’ that had haunted a generation of white South Africans.

‘The first few months of my presidency coincided with the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe,’ de Klerk wrote in his autobiography, ‘The Last Trek: A New Beginning’.

‘Within the scope of a few months, one of our main strategic concerns for decades was gone,’ he wrote. ‘A window had suddenly opened which created an opportunity for a much more adventurous approach than had been previously conceivable.’

De Klerk in February 1990 made the bombshell announcement that he would release anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners just five months after he became President.

He also ended the ban on the African National Congress (ANC), and oversaw a peaceful transition of power to Mandela in 1994 in South Africa’s first multi-racial elections, before serving for two years as Mandela’s deputy in a ‘Government of National Unity’.

Fearing a leak and a 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 were heading to parliament.

The negotiations on a peaceful transition to non-racial democracy that followed Mandela’s release were held against the backdrop of mounting political violence and often looked as though they would be derailed, a scenario that would almost certainly have plunged the nation into a bloody race war. 

But peace prevailed in what many commentators refer to as a ‘political miracle’.

FW de Klerk (R) and Nelson Mandela (L) pose with their Nobel Peace Prize Gold Medal and Diploma, in Oslo, Dec. 10, 1993. F.W. de Klerk, who oversaw end of South Africa's country's white minority rule, has died aged 85 it was announced today

FW de Klerk (R) and Nelson Mandela (L) pose with their Nobel Peace Prize Gold Medal and Diploma, in Oslo, Dec. 10, 1993. F.W. de Klerk, who oversaw end of South Africa’s country’s white minority rule, has died aged 85 it was announced today

At de Klerk’s 70th birthday celebrations in 2006, Mandela heaped praise on his predecessor for taking that leap into the political unknown.

‘If we two old, or ageing, men have any lessons for our country and for the world, it is that solutions to conflicts can only be found if adversaries are fundamentally prepared to accept the integrity of one other. 

‘You have shown 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 South Africa’s first all-race elections.

De Klerk and Mandela jointly received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their collaborative efforts to usher in non-racial democracy in the country. 

But the relationship between de Klerk, a chain-smoking whisky drinker, and the austere Mandela was often strained, and De Klerk pulled out of the government in 1996, saying the ANC no longer prized his advice or guidance.

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

‘History has shown that as far as the policy of apartheid was concerned, our former leaders were deeply mistaken in the course upon which they embarked,’ he said.

In retirement, he headed the FW de Klerk Foundation, devoted to working for peace in multi-cultural societies.

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

In December 2001, Marike was murdered in her luxury beachfront home in Cape Town, an incident that underscored South Africa’s rampant rates of violent crime. 

Former president and leader of the National Party F. W. de Klerk, discusses his resignation, below a mural of the new South African flag, at a National Party Caucus meeting in Cape Town, Aug. 26 1997

Former president and leader of the National Party F. W. de Klerk, discusses his resignation, below a mural of the new South African flag, at a National Party Caucus meeting in Cape Town, Aug. 26 1997

De Klerk (R) retired from active politics in 1997 and later apologised for the miseries of apartheid before Archbishop Desmond Tutu's (L) Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 'History has shown that as far as the policy of apartheid was concerned, our former leaders were deeply mistaken in the course upon which they embarked,' he said. (Pictured: Tutu and De Klerk in Cape Town, Aug. 21 1996)

De Klerk (R) retired from active politics in 1997 and later apologised for the miseries of apartheid before Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s (L) Truth and Reconciliation Commission. ‘History has shown that as far as the policy of apartheid was concerned, our former leaders were deeply mistaken in the course upon which they embarked,’ he said. (Pictured: Tutu and De Klerk in Cape Town, Aug. 21 1996)

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

‘There is growing disillusionment among all sectors of the population in South Africa. All South Africans, all investors, all people with an interest in South Africa are deeply concerned about the crime rate. We need a breakthrough,’ he said.

However, 10 years later he sought to strike a more balanced tone, saying shortly after President Jacob Zuma’s accession to power in 2009 that the polygamous Zulu traditionalist would ‘confound the prophets of doom’.

He also appeared genuinely moved by Mandela’s death.

‘Tata, we will miss you,’ he said in a statement, using the affectionate South African term for grandfather by which Mandela was known.

Key dates in the life of South Africa’s last white president and Nobel Peace laureate, FW de Klerk 

March 18, 1936: Frederik Willem de Klerk is born in Johannesburg into a family of Afrikaners, a white ethnic group descended mainly from Dutch colonisers. His father is a top senator who serves briefly as interim president. 

1954-1958: Studies law at university; joins the Broederbond, a secret and ethnically exclusive Calvinist male Afrikaner organisation that wields huge influence in South Africa.

1959: Marries fellow student Marike Willemse, who will be a key ally in his political career and a politician in her own right.

1972: Elected to parliament as a member of the National Party that promotes Afrikaner interests in South Africa.

1978-1989: Holds a succession of ministerial posts.

1989-1994: In office as South Africa’s president.

February 2, 1990: Legalises the banned African National Congress and orders the release of its iconic figurehead Nelson Mandela after 27 years in jail.

1991: Ends the apartheid regime in place since 1948.

1993: He and Mandela jointly receive the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in South Africa’s ‘miracle’ transition to democracy.

September 9, 1997: Retires from active politics.

1998: Divorces Marike de Klerk and marries Elita Georgiades, the wife of a Greek shipping tycoon with whom he had been having an affair.

2000: Sets up the FW de Klerk Foundation to promote inter-community relations.

December 4, 2001: Marike de Klerk is brutally murdered by a security guard at her home in Cape Town.

February 2020: Sparks fury when he denies apartheid was a crime against humanity, retracting his comments days later.

March 18, 2021: Announces he has cancer.

November 11, 2021: He dies at his home.

FW De Klerk pictured in Vienna, Austria - 19 Jan 2015

FW De Klerk pictured in Vienna, Austria – 19 Jan 2015



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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