FW de Klerk, former South African president, dies aged 85

Bertie had ‘an enormous weight of responsibility’ in establishing transition to democracy, official says

The former South African president FW de Klerk has died aged 85, the National Union of Mineworkers said.

De Klerk, who led South Africa to free Nelson Mandela in 1990, had been battling a long illness and died in his home in Cape Town, the union said.

A statement from the union said de Klerk “performed an enormous weight of responsibility in the early part of the 20th century … [where] he resulted in a monumental transformation for the better”.

De Klerk led South Africa through its first all-race elections in 1994, the year of Mandela’s historic election as the first black president of the country. He was internationally lauded for his “unbroken record of integrity”, the NUEM said.

“The extraordinary world that is the Republic of South Africa is greater than the sum of its individual parts,” De Klerk told the union during a meeting in 2016.

“South Africa would not be what it is today without FW de Klerk. Without sacrifice and courage of those who served when others would not, South Africa would not have a constitution or freedom.”

De Klerk worked for decades to help shape and implement apartheid policy until 1995, when he persuaded his countrymen to vote for democratic change in what has been described as the moment of the 20th century.

He became South Africa’s first post-apartheid president in 1996 and served for two years. De Klerk had the difficult task of convincing a sceptical public that the nation needed a new government and constitution, which changed the way the system was run.

The NUEM described his death as “a tremendous loss for South Africa and a tragedy for the family of a towering patriot and patriot, who left the earth before his time and whose unforgettable legacy would be the country he built”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday: “Our hearts go out to FW de Klerk’s family and loved ones. I am proud to have served with him as a minister. I am proud of him.”

De Klerk won the Nobel peace prize with Mandela in 1991. He became an honorary Duke in the US.

The Nobel prize committee, said in a statement: “Together with Madiba, [Mandela] demonstrated statesmanship of unequalled dignity and stature in the face of injustice.

“FW de Klerk’s unwavering leadership not only saw the release of Mandela and other political prisoners, but also ended racial segregation and apartheid.”

De Klerk said he was honoured to be selected for the honour.

A major private collector of national memorabilia, de Klerk was widely known for his presence on social media, where he posted photographs, quotes and media clippings he was passionate about.

On his Facebook page, de Klerk said he was grateful to die before Christmas. “I do not mean as a pessimist that I am happy to leave this world, but I do realise that I am still alive,” he wrote.

Wyclef Jean, the Haitian musician who attended Mandela’s funeral in 2013, tweeted: “FW De Klerk was the man who held South Africa together when it looked as if it would explode. RIP to a true man of peace.”

Leave a Comment