F. W. de Klerk

Frederik Willem de Klerk (, Afrikaans: [ˈfriədərək ˈvələm də ˈklɛrk], 18 March 1936 – 11 November 2021) was a South African politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who served as state president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 and as deputy president from 1994 to 1996. As South Africa's last head of state from the era of white-minority rule, he and his government dismantled the apartheid system and introduced universal suffrage. Ideologically a conservative and an economic liberal, he led the National Party (NP) from 1989 to 1997. Born in Johannesburg to an influential Afrikaner family, de Klerk studied at Potchefstroom University before pursuing a career in law. Joining the NP, to which he had family ties, he was elected to parliament and sat in the white-minority government of P. W. Botha, holding a succession of ministerial posts. As a minister, he supported and enforced apartheid, a system of racial segregation that privileged white South Africans. After Botha resigned in 1989, de Klerk replaced him, first as leader of the NP and then as State President. Although observers expected him to continue Botha's defence of apartheid, de Klerk decided to end the policy. He was aware that growing ethnic animosity and violence was leading South Africa into a racial civil war. Amid this violence, the state security forces committed widespread human rights abuses and encouraged violence between the Xhosa and Zulu people, although de Klerk later denied sanctioning such actions. He permitted anti-apartheid marches to take place, legalised a range of previously banned anti-apartheid political parties, and freed imprisoned anti-apartheid activists such as Nelson Mandela. He also dismantled South Africa's nuclear weapons program. De Klerk negotiated with Mandela to fully dismantle apartheid and establish a transition to universal suffrage. In 1993, he publicly apologized for apartheid's harmful effects. He oversaw the 1994 non-racial election in which Mandela led the African National Congress (ANC) to victory; de Klerk's NP took second place. De Klerk then became Deputy President in Mandela's ANC-led coalition, the Government of National Unity. In this position, he supported the government continued liberal economic policies but opposed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to investigate past human rights abuses because he wanted total amnesty for political crimes. His working relationship with Mandela was strained, although he later spoke fondly of him. In May 1996, after the NP objected to the new constitution, de Klerk withdrew it from the coalition government; the party disbanded the following year and reformed as the New National Party. In 1997, he retired from active politics and thereafter lectured internationally. De Klerk was a controversial figure among many sections of South African society, all for different reasons. He received many awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize for dismantling apartheid and bringing universal suffrage to South Africa. Conversely, he received criticism from anti-apartheid activists for offering only a qualified apology for apartheid, and for ignoring the human rights abuses by state security forces. He was also condemned by South Africa's white nationalists, who contended that by abandoning apartheid, he betrayed the interests of the country's white minority.


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