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News > South Africa

FW de Clerk, Last Apartheid South African President, Dead at 85

  • FW de Klerk, the last president of South Africa's racist apartheid regime, has died at 85.

    FW de Klerk, the last president of South Africa's racist apartheid regime, has died at 85. | Photo: Twitter @ajplus

Published 11 November 2021

The legacy of De Klerk’s role in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy remains highly contested.

The death of South Africa’s last white president Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk has drawn mixed reactions.


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Frederic De Klerk, who negotiated with the African National Congress the end of the apartheid regime, and a peaceful transfer of power to a Black-led government, died on Thursday aged 85, after a battle with cancer.

De Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993 after having earned international recognition for his role in scrapping apartheid. The following year, Mandela won South Africa’s first multi-racial elections with his African National Congress (ANC).

But de Klerk’s role in the transition to democracy remains highly contested nearly 30 years after the end of apartheid.

Many Black people were angered by his failure to curb political violence in the turbulent years leading up to the 1994 multi-racial elections. At the same time, right-wing white Afrikaners, who had long ruled the country under de Klerk’s National Party, viewed him as a traitor to their cause of white supremacy.

Some South African and other world leaders have expressed their reaction to de Klerk’s passing:

President Cyril Ramaphosa said he and the government were saddened by de Klerk’s death. De Klerk had played a “key role in ushering in democracy” in the country, Ramaphosa said, expressing his condolences to the former president’s family.

 “May FW de Klerk rest in peace and rise in glory,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a veteran of the struggle against white minority rule and seen by many as South Africa’s moral conscience, said in a short statement released by his office.

“The former president occupied a historic but difficult space in South Africa,” Tutu’s office added. “The late FW De Klerk played an important role in South Africa’s history,” it said.

“At a time when not all of his colleagues saw the future trajectory of the country unfolding in the same way, he recognized the moment for change and demonstrated the will to act on it.”

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