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Furore as experts differ over the late FW de Klerk’s legacy

Former president FW de Klerk’s legacy continues to be contested after his death. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Former president FW de Klerk’s legacy continues to be contested after his death. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 12, 2021


Cape Town - Tribute continued to pour in on Friday for the last apartheid government president, FW de Klerk, who died at his Fresnaye home on Thursday.

De Klerk’s death has sparked a furore with his legacy being contested in some quarters.

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Speaking on a radio talk show, former transport minister Mac Maharaj said De Klerk would be remembered for opening the road towards a negotiated settlement.

“There cannot be any doubt that De Klerk put himself into the history of our country when he took the steps he announced on February 2, 1990. Those steps opened the road towards a negotiated settlement,” Maharaj said.

He, however, said the former second deputy president in the government of national unity had in many ways remained a prisoner of his own past.

“From time to time he tried to break out as he did that in February 1990 but at other times he continued into 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, who served with him as minister in the government of national unity, gave credit to him for having read the writing on the wall that apartheid would no longer survive.

“In my view the attempt to break out from the grip of his he past by making the announcement on February 2, was based on the fact that he was able to read the writing on the wall. (He) recognised that apartheid was off and that forces within the country, as well as international forces, were lined up in such a way that there was no possibility that apartheid would survive any longer.”

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He also said when De Klerk took his steps by carrying 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,” Maharaj added.

Former DA leader Tony Leon said De Klerk has obviously left a contested legacy.

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“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 for which he was part of until the age of 53,” he said.

Leon, who was a back bencher when De Klerk made his historic announcement, said it was significant that he was a conservative nationalist until he made his great leap forward for whatever reasons.

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

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Leon also noted De Klerk was viewed by some whites as a sell-out.

“There are significant number of whites, particularly Afrikaans whites, who regarded him as a pariah or sell out or, indeed, someone who oversold a false prospectus to them, because he made a lot of his commitment to his constituency between 1990 and 1994, which were not realised at once, (until) constitutional democracy arrived in this country,” Leon said.

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Related Topics:

FW De KlerkApartheid