F. W. de Klerk

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F. W. de Klerk
F. W. de Klerk 2012.jpg
Deputy President of South Africa
In office
10 May 1994 – 30 June 1996
Serving with Thabo Mbeki
President Nelson Mandela
Preceded by Alwyn Schlebusch
As Vice State President
Succeeded by Thabo Mbeki (solely)
State President of South Africa
In office
15 August 1989 – 10 May 1994
Preceded by P. W. Botha
Succeeded by Nelson Mandela
As President of South Africa
Personal details
Born Frederik Willem de Klerk
(1936-03-18) 18 March 1936 (age 81)
Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa
Political party National Party
Relations Johannes de Klerk (father)
  • Jan
  • Willem
  • Susan
Residence Cape Town, Western Cape
Alma mater Potchefstroom University (BA, LLB)
Occupation Politician
Profession Attorney

Frederik Willem de Klerk DMS (Afrikaans pronunciation: [ˈfrɪədərək ˈvələm də ˈklɛrk]; born 18 March 1936) is a South African politician who served as State President of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 and as Deputy President from 1994 to 1996. South Africa's last head of state from the era of white-minority rule, his government focused on dismantling the apartheid system and introducing universal suffrage. Ideologically a conservative, he led the National Party from 1989 to 1997.

Born in Johannesburg to an influential Afrikaner family, de Klerk joined the Broederbond while at university. Under the rule of P. W. Botha, he held a succession of ministerial posts and enforced the apartheid system. De Klerk helped to broker the end of apartheid, South Africa's policies of racial segregation and discrimination, and supported the transformation of South Africa into a non-racial democracy by entering negotiations that resulted in all citizens having equal rights. He won the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize in 1991, the Prince of Asturias Award in 1992 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with Nelson Mandela for his role in ending the apartheid system.

He was one of the deputy presidents of South Africa during the presidency of Nelson Mandela until 1996, and is the most recent white South African and Afrikaner to have held the position. In 1997, he retired from active politics. He continues to remain active as a lecturer internationally. He has gone on to praise Mandela's work and speak of their friendship.[1] After the deaths of P. W. Botha in 2006 and Marais Viljoen in 2007, de Klerk is the last surviving State President of South Africa.

Early life and education[edit]

The name "De Klerk" is derived from Le Clerc, Le Clercq and De Clercq, and is of French Huguenot origin[2] (meaning "clergyman" or "literate" in old French). De Klerk noted that he is also of Dutch descent,[3][4] with an Indian ancestor from the late 1600s or early 1700s.[5] He is also said to be descended from the Khoi interpreter known as Krotoa or Eva.[6]

De Klerk was born in Johannesburg, in the then Transvaal Province of South Africa, to Johannes "Jan" de Klerk and Hendrina Cornelia Coetzer – "her forefather was a Kutzer who stems from Austria".[7][8] De Klerk graduated from Monument High School in Krugersdorp. De Klerk graduated in 1958 from the Potchefstroom University with BA and LL.B degrees (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.[9]

He was brought up in the Gereformeerde Kerk, the smallest and most socially conservative of South Africa's three Dutch Reformed Churches.[10] De Klerk's family had longstanding affiliations with South Africa's National Party.[11] His uncle, J. G. Strijdom, was a former Prime Minister.[10] 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.[12][13] 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.[14] His brother, Willem, was a political analyst who later was a founder of the Democratic Party.[10]

De Klerk went to study law at Potchefstroom University, graduating with honors.[10] At university, he was initiated into the Broederbond, a secret society for the Afrikaaner social elite.[15]

"F. W.", pronounced "eff-veer", 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.[16]

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)
  • National Education and Planning (1984–1989)

In 1972, his alma mater offered him a chair in its law faculty.[10] In 1976, he was in the United States where he observed what he saw as the pervasive racism of US society, later noting that he "saw more racial incidents in one month there than in South Africa in a year".[17]

He became Transvaal provincial National Party leader in 1982 and chairman of the Minister's Council in the House of Assembly in 1985.[citation needed] As education minister between 1984 and 1989 he upheld the apartheid system in South Africa's schools.[15]

Ending apartheid[edit]

Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shake hands at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos in January 1992.

For most of his career, 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 which 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.[citation needed]

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. On 2 February 1989, he was elected leader of the National Party.[18] Soon after, he called for the introduction of a new South African constitution, hinting that it would need to provide greater concession to non-white racial groups.[15] Botha resigned on 14 August, and De Klerk was named acting state president until 20 September, when he was elected to a full five-year term as state president. [15] After he became acting president, ANC leaders spoke out against him, believing that he would be no different from his predecessors.[15]

As President, he released a number of elderly anti-apartheid activists then imprisoned, including Walter Sisulu.[15] He also ordered the closure of the National Security Management System.[15] In December he visited Mandela in prison, speaking with him for three hours about the idea of transitioning away from white-minority rule.[15]

History has placed a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of this country's leadership, namely the responsibility of moving our country away from the current course of conflict and confrontation... The hope of millions of South Africans is fixed on us. The future of southern Africa depends on us. We dare not waver or fail.
— De Klerk's speech to Parliament, February 1990[15]

On 2 February 1990 he gave an address to the country's parliament in which he announced plans for sweeping reforms of the political system.[19] He announced that a number of banned political parties, including the ANC and Communist Party of South Africa, would be legalised.[15] He also announced that the Separate Amenities Act of 1953, which governed the segregation of public facilities, would be lifted.[15] He declared that Mandela would be released from prison unconditionally;[15] the latter was released a week later.[20] he later related that "that speech was mainly aimed at breaking our stalemate in Africa and the West. Internationally we were teetering on the edge of the abyss."[21] Throughout South Africa and across the world, there was astonishment at de Klerk's move.[15] The prominent anti-apartheid activist and clergyman Desmond Tutu said that "It's incredible... Give him credit. Give him credit, I do."[15]

Further reforms followed; membership of the National Party was opened up to non-whites.[20] In June, parliament approved new legislation that repealed the Natives Land Act, 1913 and Native Trust and Land Act, 1936.[20] The Population Registration Act, which established the racial classificatory guidelines for South Africa, was rescinded.[20]

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 among 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.[22]

His presidency was dominated by the negotiation process, mainly between his NP government and the ANC, which led to the democratization of South Africa. In 1992, de Klerk held a whites-only referendum on ending apartheid, with the result being an overwhelming "yes" vote to continue negotiations to end apartheid. Nelson Mandela was distrustful of the role played by de Klerk in the negotiations, particularly as he believed that de Klerk was knowledgeable about 'third force' attempts to foment violence in the country and destabilize the negotiations.[23]

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.[24][25]

In 1993, De Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in ending apartheid. The awarding of the prize to de Klerk was controversial, especially in the light of de Klerk's reported admission that he ordered a massacre of supposed Azanian Peoples' Liberation Army fighters, including teenagers, shortly before going to Oslo in 1993.[26] It appears that this massacre may form part of the basis for criminal charges that the Anti-Racism Action Forum laid against de Klerk in early 2016.[27] Further, de Klerk's role in the destabilization of the country during the negotiation process through the operation of a 'third force' came to the attention of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was never ultimately clarified.[28][29]

After the first universal elections in 1994, de Klerk became deputy president in the government of national unity under Nelson Mandela, a post he kept until 1996. In 1997 he resigned the leadership of the National Party and retired from politics.

Later life[edit]

In 1996, de Klerk was offered the Harper Fellowship at Yale Law School. He declined, citing protests at the university.[30] De Klerk did, however, speak at Central Connecticut State University the day before his fellowship would have begun.

De Klerk with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012.

In 1998, de Klerk and his wife of 38 years, Marike de Klerk, were divorced following the discovery of his affair with Elita Georgiades,[31] then the wife of Tony Georgiades, a Greek shipping tycoon who had allegedly given de Klerk and the NP financial support.[32] Soon after his divorce, de Klerk and Georgiades were married. His divorce and remarriage scandalised conservative South African opinion, especially among the Calvinist Afrikaners. In 1999, his autobiography, The Last Trek – A New Beginning, was published. In 2001, following the murder of his former wife, the manuscript of her own autobiography, A Place Where the Sun Shines Again, was submitted to de Klerk, who urged the publishers to suppress a chapter dealing with his infidelity.[33]

In 1999, de Klerk established the pro-peace FW de Klerk Foundation of which he is the chairman. De Klerk is also chairman of the Global Leadership Foundation, headquartered in London, 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 3 December 2001, Marike de Klerk was found stabbed and 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.[citation needed] On 6 December 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.[34]

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.[35]

In 2008, he repeated in a speech that "despite all the negatives facing South Africa, he is very positive about the country".[36]

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, it was announced that he was to undergo a tracheotomy.[37][38][39] He recovered and on 11 September 2006 gave a speech at Kent State University Stark Campus.[40][41]

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 then president Chen Shui-Bian.[42]

De Klerk with the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in 2015

De Klerk is an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society and Honorary Chairman of the Prague Society for International Cooperation.[41] 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 is optimistic that Zuma and his government can "confound the prophets of doom".[43]

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."[44]

Upon hearing of the death of Mandela, de Klerk said: "He was a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did. This emphasis on reconciliation was his biggest legacy."[45]

In 2015, de Klerk wrote to The Times newspaper in the UK criticising moves to remove a statue to Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford.[46] He was subsequently criticized by some activists who described it as "ironic" that the last apartheid President should be defending a statue of a man labelled by critics as the "architect of apartheid".[47] There have also been calls for him to be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize.[48]

Personality and personal life[edit]

Glad and Blanton stated that de Klerk's "political choices were undergirded by self-confidence and commitment to the common good."[49] His brother Willem stated that de Klerk's demeanour was marked by "soberness, humility and calm".[50] His former wife Marike described de Klerk as being "extremely sensitive to beautiful things", exhibiting something akin to an artistic temperament.[10]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Glad and Blanton stated that de Klerk, along with Mandela, "accomplished the rare feat of bringing about systemic revolution through peaceful means."[51]


  1. ^ Changing the Course of History Description of a March 2011 lecture in Walnut Creek, California
  2. ^ Lugan, Bernard (1996). Ces Français qui ont fait l'Afrique du Sud (The French People Who Made South Africa). Bartillat. ISBN 2-84100-086-9. 
  3. ^ Sapa-dpa (9 July 2010). "'Diplomatic' FW to cheer for Dutch". Sunday Times (Johannesburg). Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  4. ^ "Frederik en Marike de Klerk vinden hun wortels in Zeeland". Trouw. 13 November 1995. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  5. ^ Morris, Michael (8 February 1999). "South Africa: FW de Klerk Reveals Colourful Ancestry" – via AllAfrica. 
  6. ^ Sharon Marshall. "What's in a (South African) name? –". Southafrica.info. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  7. ^ Johannes (Jan) de Klerk | South African History Online
  8. ^ A. Kamsteeg, E. Van Dijk, F.W. de Klerk, man of the moment. 1990
  9. ^ Abrams, Irwin, Nobelstiftelsen. Peace 1991–1995, 1999. Page 71.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Glad & Blanton 1997, p. 579.
  11. ^ Glad & Blanton 1997, pp. 566–567.
  12. ^ "Die familie van Rooy in Suid-Afrika". Vanrooy.org.za. 23 July 1939. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  13. ^ J. Ball, F.W. de Klerk: the man in his time. 1991
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Glad & Blanton 1997, p. 567.
  16. ^ http://www.rulers.org/safrgov.html
  17. ^ Glad & Blanton 1997, p. 580.
  18. ^ de Klerk 1991, p. 15; Glad & Blanton 1997, p. 567.
  19. ^ de Klerk 1991, pp. 2–3; Glad & Blanton 1997, p. 567.
  20. ^ a b c d Glad & Blanton 1997, p. 568.
  21. ^ de Klerk 1991, p. 5.
  22. ^ Sampson, Anthony; John Battersby (2011). Mandela – The authorised biography. HarperPress. pp. 439–40, 442–4, 478, 485, 511. ISBN 978-0-00-743797-9. 
  23. ^ "Nelson Mandela's fraught relationship with FW de Klerk". 
  24. ^ Von Wielligh, N. & von Wielligh-Steyn, L. (2015). The Bomb – South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Programme. Pretoria: Litera.
  25. ^ "Country Overviews: South Africa: Nuclear Chronology". NTI. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 29 June 2009. 
  26. ^ "De Klerk's prejudice laid bare - IOL". 
  27. ^ "Criminal charges to be laid against De Klerk, Vlok". 
  28. ^ "South Africa's Truth Panel Accuses de Klerk of Lies and Cover-Up". The New York Times. 18 January 1997. 
  29. ^ "Truth Commission - Special Report - VlakplaasEpisode 43, Section 6, Time 25:33". 
  30. ^ Gold, Emily. (28 March 1997). Ethical controversy forces de Klerk to decline honor. Yale Herald, 23. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  31. ^ "Ex-wife of de Klerk Murdered: S. African Police". People's Daily. 6 December 2001. Retrieved 18 April 2006. 
  32. ^ Crawford-Browne, Terry. "A question of priorities". Peace News Issue 2442. Archived from the original on 6 May 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2006. 
  33. ^ Location Settings. "FW baulked at Marike's book". News24. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  34. ^ "De Klerk killer 'gets life'". BBC. Retrieved 2 November 2015. 
  35. ^ "HBO History Makers Series: Frederik Willem de Klerk". 
  36. ^ "News – Politics: de Klerk sanguine about SA". Independent Online. South Africa. Retrieved 29 June 2009. 
  37. ^ "FW undergoes tumour surgery". 3 June 2006. Archived from the original on 28 June 2006. Retrieved 9 June 2006. 
  38. ^ "FW de Klerk 'stable'". 9 June 2006. Archived from the original on 17 February 2007. Retrieved 9 June 2006. 
  39. ^ "FW to have tracheotomy". 13 June 2006. Archived from the original on 19 February 2007. Retrieved 13 June 2006. 
  40. ^ "FW de Klerk Foundation Website – Speeches". 11 September 2006. Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. Retrieved 11 September 2006. 
  41. ^ a b de Klerk, CNN World Africa, 21 December 2006.
  42. ^ "Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China; Press Release: H.E Young Sam, Kim, Former President of the Republic of Korea and his delegation arrived in Taiwan". Mofa.gov.tw. 25 January 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2009. 
  43. ^ "News – Election 2009: 'Zuma will confound the prophets of doom'". Independent Online. South Africa. Retrieved 29 June 2009. 
  44. ^ Interview by Stephen Sackur on Hardtalk, broadcast on BBC World Service 18 & 19 April 2012.
  45. ^ "Eyewitness News: De Klerk: Mandela united SA". Ewn.co.za. 6 December 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  46. ^ "FW De Klerk criticises Rhodes statue removal campaign". 26 December 2015 – via www.bbc.co.uk. 
  47. ^ "RMF activists slam De Klerk - IOL". 
  48. ^ Sesant, Siyabonga. "EFF calls for De Klerk to be stripped of Nobel Peace accolade". Eyewitness News. Archived from the original on 30 December 2015. Retrieved 2015-12-28. 
  49. ^ Glad & Blanton 1997, p. 583.
  50. ^ de Klerk 1991, p. 1.
  51. ^ Glad & Blanton 1997, p. 565.


de Klerk, Willem (1991). F. W. de Klerk: The Man in his Time. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers. 
Glad, Betty; Blanton, Robert (1997). "F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela: A Study in Cooperative Transformational Leadership". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 27 (3): 565–590. JSTOR 27551769. 
Sampson, Anthony (2011) [1999]. Mandela: The Authorised Biography. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-743797-9. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Pieter Willem Botha
State President of South Africa
Succeeded by
Nelson Mandela
as President of South Africa
New title Deputy President of South Africa
Served alongside: Thabo Mbeki
Succeeded by
Thabo Mbeki