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Former president FW De Klerk’s legacy clouded by questions

Former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk. Picture: Jacoline Prinsloo/African News Agency(ANA)

Former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk. Picture: Jacoline Prinsloo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Nov 13, 2021


Cape Town - Former president FW de Klerk’s death this week has reopened old wounds and polarised opinion.

Former Cabinet minister Mac Maharaj, ex-DA leader Tony Leon, former public prosecutor Thuli Madonsela and retired senior prosecutor Willie Hofmeyr were among those commenting on De Klerk’s clouded legacy yesterday.

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Maharaj said De Klerk had taken the initiative to open the country to a democratic order but, despite his leap of faith, De Klerk had remained stuck in the past.

“From time to time he tried to break out as he did in February 1990, but at other times he continued to lapse into the grip of that past. The latest evidence of that lapse into the grip to his past was his failure to recognise that apartheid was a crime against humanity,” he said.

Maharaj said De Klerk had managed to cross the Rubicon at the time that he did because he realised apartheid had no future.

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He also said when De Klerk took steps to carry the rest of the National Party leadership with him into the reform process, he entered that process on the basis he would control it and dictate its terms.

“Those wishes were not realised because the forces for democracy were too powerful in the negotiating table,” said Maharaj.

Video supplied: FW de Klerk Foundation

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But Madonsela said it took courage from De Klerk to initiate the democratic process in the country.

“My heart goes out to Elita de Klerk, family, colleagues and friends of FW de Klerk. It took courage and the choice of hope over fear to cross the Rubicon entailed in the release of Nelson Mandela, unbanning political parties and entering into constitutional negotiations,” said Madonsela.

Hofmeyr said De Klerk had played a key role during the transition period.

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“You may remember that there was a big fight in the nation, but in the end I think De Klerk did play an important and relatively constructive role in bringing democracy to South Africa, and for that we should give him credit,” said Hofmeyr.

Former DA leader Tony Leon said it was clear De Klerk had left behind a contested legacy.

“Perhaps it is appropriate given that the central paradox in his life and career was that he was the last apartheid president and the first one to dismantle the system which he was part of until the age of 53,” he said.

He said De Klerk was a conservative nationalist until he decided to take that decision in February 1990 to announce the reforms.

“I think no one else could have taken the conservative nationalist steps other than someone who came from the solid background De Klerk had. You need to come from the heart of the establishment to change it,” he said.

Leon added that De Klerk had been regarded by some Afrikaners as someone who sold out.

Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, said De Klerk took some of his secrets to the grave.

He said he should have come clean about the atrocities of the past.

Video: Kim Kay/IOL

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission still has unfinished business with some of those implicated in apartheid era crimes not being prosecuted.

He said the families of the victims were still without answers and the people behind the apartheid crimes were not facing justice.

He said all victims wanted to ask for was an apology.

“The challenge we face as apartheid victims is who do we forgive, because apartheid perpetrators don’t ask for forgiveness. Like late former apartheid policeman João Rodrigues, he refused to apologise, he refused to take responsibility, he continued with his life and took the truth to his grave. This is the reality we face and we are asked to continue moving forward in this country and continue the principle of reconciliation. Who do we reconcile with when an apartheid leader had ample time to apologise, but failed to do so?” Cajee asked.

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Political Bureau

Related Topics:

FW De KlerkApartheid