F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s Last Apartheid President, Dies at 85

In Summary

A divisive figure in South Africa, many felt he promoted violence against Black South Africans while pro-apartheid groups felt he was a traitor. 

South Africa’s last apartheid president, F.W. de Klerk, who oversaw the end of the country’s white minority rule, died on Thursday from cancer. He was 85.   

A divisive figure in South Africa, many feel he perpetuated violence against Black South Africans and anti-apartheid activists, while pro-apartheid groups felt he was a traitor for trying to end the racist system, according to the Associated Press.  

“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 Mandela Foundation said in a statement to AP.   

His work to end apartheid in South Africa and move the country toward democracy earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 alongside former South African President Nelson Mandela.   

Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s foundation commented on de Klerk’s death, saying he “played an important role in South Africa’s history … he recognized the moment for change and demonstrated the will to act on it.”  

“The former President occupied an historic but difficult space in South Africa,” Tutu’s office said in the statement. “Although some South Africans found the global recognition of Mr. De Klerk hard to accept, Mr. Mandela, himself, praised him for his courage in seeing the country’s political transformation process through.”  

Tutu, however, previously criticized de Klerk for not fully apologizing and taking responsibility for the racist system, per AP.   

Speaking to South Africa’s Parliament in 1990, de Klerk announced that Mandela would be freed from prison after 27 years, anti-apartheid groups would be legal and work toward ending racial inequity in the country would occur, according to CNN.   

Despite his speech over 30 years ago, de Klerk faced controversy last year after he said that apartheid wasn’t a crime against humanity, resulting in his foundation apologizing, CNN reported.   

In 2012, he did not flat out condemn apartheid, saying, “I can only say that in a qualified way … there were many aspects which are morally indefensible.”   

RELATED: Former South African Pres. Jacob Zuma Released From Prison Due to Illness 

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