The death of South Africa’s last white president Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk has drawn mixed reactions.
De Klerk, who negotiated the end of white minority rule and a peaceful transfer of power to a Black-led government, died on Thursday aged 85, after a battle with cancer.
De Klerk won praise worldwide for his role in scrapping apartheid and he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993. The following year Mandela won South Africa’s first multi-racial elections with his African National Congress (ANC).
But de Klerk’s role in the transition to democracy remains highly contested nearly 30 years after the end of apartheid.
Many Black people were angered by his failure to curb political violence in the turbulent years leading up to the 1994 multi-racial elections, while right-wing white Afrikaners, who had long ruled the country under de Klerk’s National Party, viewed him as a traitor to their cause of white supremacy.
Here are some of the early reactions to de Klerk’s death:
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he and the government were saddened by de Klerk’s death.
De Klerk had played a “key role in ushering in democracy” in the country, Ramaphosa said, expressing his condolences to the former president’s family.
President Ramaphosa says former President FW de Klerk "had the courage to step away" from the path that the National Party had taken.
— @SAgovnews (@SAgovnews) November 11, 2021
“May FW de Klerk rest in peace and rise in glory,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a veteran of the struggle against white minority rule and seen by many as South Africa’s moral conscience, said in a short statement released by his office.
“The former president occupied a historic but difficult space in South Africa,” Tutu’s office added. “The late FW De Klerk played an important role in South Africa’s history,” it said.
“At a time when not all of his colleagues saw the future trajectory of the country unfolding in the same way, he recognised the moment for change and demonstrated the will to act on it.”
Nelson Mandela Foundation
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said that de Klerk’s legacy was an “uneven one“.
“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,” a statement said.
“De Klerk will forever be linked to Nelson Mandela in the annals of South African history. As head of state, he oversaw the release of Madiba from prison on 11 February 1990. In 1993, they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ushering in a negotiated settlement that led to South Africa holding its first democratic election in 1994,” the statement added.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in a statement on Twitter he was saddened by the news, while expressing that de Klerk was “a man whose decisions at a key moment advanced South Africa’s journey from apartheid to democracy”.
Saddened to hear of the death of of FW de Klerk, a man whose decisions at a key moment advanced South Africa’s journey from apartheid to democracy.
His vision, along with Nelson Mandela, moulded a new South Africa.
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) November 11, 2021
Leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) John Steenhuisen, South Africa’s second-biggest party after the African National Congress (ANC), said de Klerk’s contribution to the country’s transition to democracy “cannot be overstated”.
Steenhuisen said de Klerk’s success in bringing the majority of white voters with him over the need to abolish apartheid “played a critical role in ensuring that the transition happened peacefully and that the 1994 elections… were embraced by all South Africans”.
The DA is the main rival of the ANC in national and local elections but has struggled to shed its image as a party of white privilege.
His decision, within a year of taking over the presidency from PW Botha in 1989, to unban liberation movements, release Nelson Mandela from prison, lift the ban on political marches and begin the negotiation process towards our first democratic election was a watershed moment.
— John Steenhuisen MP (@jsteenhuisen) November 11, 2021
Julius Malema, the leader of the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the country’s third-biggest political party, said de Klerk should not be referred to as a “former president” but as a “former apartheid president”.
Nigerian Senator and human rights activist Shehu Sani said de Klerk “will be remembered as the man who finally drew the curtain against Apartheid.”
“He bowed to the will of the people and occupied a special place in moral and political history,” the statement added.
F.W de Klerk,the former President of South Africa will be remembered as the man who finally drew the curtain against Apartheid.He bowed to the will of the people and occupied a Special place in moral and political history.May his soul Rest In Peace. #FWDeKlerk
— Senator Shehu Sani (@ShehuSani) November 11, 2021
Alastair Campbell, who acted as press chief to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said de Klerk was someone who changed the “arc” of history in a similar way to his successor, the anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela.
To have been part of the apartheid system, then worked with Mandela to dismantle it, then serve as his deputy President, was as history-shaping as it gets. In a world when so few of its so-called leaders can claim to statesmanship his achievements truly deserve that title 2/3
— ALASTAIR CAMPBELL (@campbellclaret) November 11, 2021
South Africa’s ActionSA party offered “condolences” to De Klerk’s friends and family. “De Klerk played an important role, regardless of motivations, in the freeing of Former President Nelson Mandela and the ending of apartheid,” the party wrote on Twitter.
ActionSA notes the passing of former Apartheid South Africa President, FW De Klerk.
We send condolences to his friends and family.
De Klerk played an important role, regardless of motivations, in the freeing of Former President Nelson Mandela and the ending of apartheid.
— ActionSA (@Action4SA) November 11, 2021
South African actress Pearl Thusi suggested the former president should not have a state funeral.
“If FW DE KLERK gets a state funeral … That will be a huge middle finger to the people who suffered under the apartheid regime in this country,” she said in a tweet.
“We must disrupt that funeral if it’s declared a state funeral. There’s just no way.”
This headline is upsetting because this guy , till he died, insisted that partners wasn’t a crime against humanity. And released Madiba under duress. The Nobel peace prize was a scam to look unified . https://t.co/JErecW8X4v
— Pearl Thusi (@PearlThusi) November 11, 2021