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FW de Klerk: South Africa’s former president dies at 85

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FW de Klerk, the former president of South Africa and the last white person to lead the country, has died at the age of 85.

Mr de Klerk, who was also a key figure in the country’s transition to democracy, was diagnosed with cancer this year, according to a spokesman.

Between September 1989 and May 1994, he served as President of the United States.

In 1990, he announced the release of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, sparking multi-party elections in 1994.

Mr de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for his role in negotiating the end of apartheid. His legacy, however, has divided opinion in South Africa.

According to a statement released by the former president’s FW de Klerk Foundation on Thursday, he died peacefully at his home in Cape Town after a battle with mesothelioma cancer.

The diagnosis of lung cancer, which affects the lining of the lungs, was announced by the foundation in June.

According to the statement, Mr de Klerk is survived by his wife Elita, his children Jan and Susan, and his grandchildren.

The former president was born in Johannesburg in March 1936, into a family of Afrikaner politicians.

He practised law and held a number of ministerial positions before succeeding PW Botha as National Party leader in February 1989.

The following year, in a famous speech to parliament, he announced that he was lifting the ban on parties that included Mr Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC).

He also stated that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison after 27 years.

His actions helped bring apartheid-era South Africa to an end, and he became one of the country’s two deputy presidents following the multi-party elections that saw Mr Mandela elected president in 1994.

In 1997, he announced his retirement from politics, saying, “I am resigning because I am convinced it is in the best interests of the party and the country.”

Despite the fact that Mr de Klerk’s relationship with Mr Mandela was frequently marred by bitter disagreements, the new president described the man he succeeded as someone of great integrity.

Many black South Africans, however, have blamed him for failing to reduce violence during his tenure in power.

Last year, he became embroiled in a row in which he was accused of playing down the seriousness of apartheid. He later apologised for “quibbling” over the matter.

The reactions in South Africa reflect the schisms that have dogged FW de Klerk for decades. Some regard him as a decent man, a rare politician who took the unusual step of negotiating a path out of power – for himself and his party – and thus helped to steer the country away from the racial civil war that many feared would engulf South Africa in the late 1908s and early 1990s.

Others, including Nelson Mandela, were more sceptical, viewing de Klerk as a political opportunist, a conservative Afrikaner who realised that with the Cold War over and international sanctions looming, he had no choice but to negotiate with the black majority.

In recent years, a younger generation of South Africans has sought to call into question the compromises that accompanied South Africa’s transition to democracy, arguing that De Klerk and other apartheid leaders should be held accountable for the death squads that targeted members of the liberation movement.

De Klerk did apologise for aspects of apartheid, but he refused to admit that the apartheid regime’s actions – treating millions of black South Africans as second-class citizens, limiting their education, and banishing them to black “homelands” – constituted a crime against humanity until his death.

SourceBBC
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