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It has been some time since FW de Klerk has been in the news. Last week we saw him on CNN where he made some unfortunate comments.
One of the things he said to CNN’s Christiane Amampour about black people’s disenfranchisement under apartheid was: “They were not disenfranchised, they voted. They were not put in homelands, the homelands were historically there.”
I am not sure whether he wants to believe that the more time goes by, the less bad apartheid seems or whether he lives in his own world where apartheid would have been a utopia for blacks and whites alike.
He seems to have forgotten the forced removals, the pass laws, the Immorality Act and that black people couldn’t study for certain professions because Hendrik Verwoerd had decreed that the black man should never be allowed to believe that he was the white man’s equal.
The last time FW de Klerk managed to annoy so many people was during his reign as SA’s last apartheid president.
It was as if black people had somehow managed to imagine oppression and apartheid.
During the interview, he came across as if he believed that apartheid would have worked splendidly had it not failed so spectacularly.
I recalled reading that Nelson Mandela distrusted De Klerk and preferred dealing with his predecessor, PW Botha, because he believed he was straightforward.
Mandela’s dislike and distrust of De Klerk was no more evident than on December 21, 1991, on the final day of the Convention for a Democratic SA talks.
The government asked that it have the last word, even though it had been agreed that the ANC would speak last.
The ANC relented and allowed De Klerk to speak.
When he spoke, he attacked the ANC for negotiating while retaining Umkhonto weSizwe, the ANC’s military wing. The government wanted the ANC to give up its weapons and hand them over to the army – the then SADF.
Mandela refused because scores of people in pro-ANC areas were being murdered without any security force intervention and that while there were signs of a third force. Mandela lambasted the last apartheid president.
After De Klerk had finished speaking, Mandela approached the podium. The chairman of the proceedings tried to stop him but he said he wouldn’t be stopped because he wanted to address a matter of national security.
It is one of the few times that we have seen Madiba so publicly livid.
“I am gravely concerned about the behaviour of Mr De Klerk today.
‘‘He has launched an attack on the African National Congress, and in doing so he has been less than frank. Even the head of an illegitimate, discredited, minority regime as his, has certain moral standards to uphold. He has no excuse, (just) because he is a representative of a discredited regime, not to uphold moral standards.”
De Klerk’s words last week reminded us why Mandela didn’t trust him. The FW de Klerk Foundation issued an apology or rather expressed regret about his statements. But it seemed no different from the interview.
When he says things like this while the scars are still fresh, some may be tempted to diminish his role in bringing about a new SA.
We cannot and should not deny that De Klerk saw the wind of change and responded accordingly.
Even if he had to be coerced into doing the right thing, in the end, he still did.