UPDATED 11:57 AM PT – Sunday, December 12, 2021
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered remarks honoring the country’s last apartheid-era President F.W. de Klerk in Cape Town on Sunday.
“Raised in the ideology of racial superiority, committed to the defense of an abhorrent and inhumane system, F.W. de Klerk would come to play an important role in our democratic transition,” said Ramaphosa.
Born to an influential Afrikaner family in Johannesburg in 1936, de Klerk grew up in a household with deep ties to the ruling racist National Party. After law school, he opened his own law firm in nearby Pretoria until running for a seat in Parliament in 1972.
In government, de Klerk worked to uphold the apartheid system while working for reforms in certain areas, including repealing the law banning many mixed race marriages. By 1989, the sitting president had resigned and de Klerk became his successor.
Tensions in South Africa between the racist white government and Black majority population were at an all time high by this point, with anti-apartheid activists saying the new president supported the system through and through. However, de Klerk began working quickly to dismantle the near half-century old system of racism, first freeing Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners in 1990 and then unbanning organizations opposed to apartheid.
“The steps that have been decided are the following: The prohibition of the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, the South African Communist Party, and a number of subsidiary organizations is being rescinded,” stated de Klerk at the time.
A memorial was held for South Africa's F.W. de Klerk on Sunday, with President Cyril Ramaphosa saying the country's journey was not unlike the life of its last apartheid leader https://t.co/a9arvoKi87 pic.twitter.com/ybO9ejSepz
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 12, 2021
De Klerk lost his presidency to Mandela in the election, but succeeded at ending decades of oppression and state sanctioned racism against non-white South Africans. For their success at bringing freedom to the Rainbow Nation, de Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
According to his widow, de Klerk was an unlikely, but very committed, father of a new nation. Quoting American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., she said that de Klerk turned his enemies into friends with love being the only force capable of doing so.
“Finally, I would like to say, according to Martin Luther King, that love is the only force, capable force of transforming an enemy into a friend. In life, there are no strangers, only friends that we have not met yet,” said Elita de Klerk.
De Klerk was 85 when he passed away at his home in Cape Town last month and apologized for all the pain his support of apartheid caused his fellow citizens. In a sign of unity and reconciliation for the future of South Africa, the ruling ANC, an organization once banned by his apartheid government, has ordered four days of national mourning for the loss of de Klerk.