Former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last leader under apartheid and key actor in the country’s transition to democracy, has died, his foundation announced. He was 85 years old.
“FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer,” the FW de Klerk Foundation said in a statement on Thursday.
De Klerk and South Africa’s first Black President Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for leading the “miracle” transition from white rule in the country.
He died after a battle with cancer, his foundation said in a statement.
De Klerk had announced his diagnosis on his 85th birthday, on March 18 this year.
He is survived by his wife Elita, children Jan and Susan, and grandchildren.
“The family will, in due course, make an announcement regarding funeral arrangements,” the foundation added.
End of white-minority rule
Together with Mandela, de Klerk oversaw the end of white-minority rule in South Africa.
In February 1990, de Klerk delivered a speech at the country’s Parliament, announcing sweeping reforms that marked the beginning of the negotiated transition from apartheid to democracy.
The reforms lifted the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid organisations, and authorised the release of political prisoners, including Mandela. It also put a moratorium on the death penalty.
The speech marked the official end of segregation policies and the start of the negotiations that led to constitutional democracy with equal rights for all South Africans.
Amid gasps, several members of parliament left the chamber as he spoke. Nine days later, Mandela walked free.
Four years after that, Mandela was elected the country’s first Black president as Black South Africans voted for the first time.
By then, de Klerk and Mandela had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their often-tense cooperation in moving South Africa away from institutionalised racism and towards democracy.
Speaking from Johannesburg, Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller described Mandela and de Klerk’s relationship as one of mutual respect.
“They were part of very important talks that led to the end of apartheid and a peaceful transition in South Africa,” Miller said.
“This was the apartheid leader that said apartheid would come to an end. He continued to have a good relationship with the African National Congress, in fact becoming a member later on.”
Still, Miller explained that some young people in South Africa today look back with disappointment at the role de Klerk’s national party played during apartheid. Some believe the late leader only ended white-minority rule because he was forced to.
“South Africa was suffering from international sanctions, there were financial difficulties and protests and violence within the country. There almost was no choice but to end apartheid, according to some critics. Still, he was the leader who declared an end to the apartheid,” she said.
Born in the economic hub of Johannesburg, into a family of Afrikaners, a white ethnic group descended mainly from Dutch colonisers, de Klerk’s father was a leading apartheid senator who served briefly as interim president.
He studied law, before being elected to Parliament as a member of the National Party that instituted apartheid.
De Klerk then held several ministerial positions before he became present in 1989, a position he held until he handed over the reins to Mandela after the first democratic elections in 1994.