Political veterans on the mend

By Time of article published Aug 29, 2006

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By Ben Maclennan

Former president FW de Klerk is about to plunge back into his work schedule again after what his spokesperson says is a "good, strong recovery" from a cancer operation and lung infection.

And another political veteran, Helen Suzman, is taking things easy as she recovers from a June fall in which she fractured a femur.

"My recovery is slow: old bones knit very slowly, they tell me, and this old bone is knitting very slowly," the 88-year-old said from her Johannesburg home on Tuesday.

She said she was able to move around only with the aid of a walker, and had left the house only three times since the accident, one of them for an X-ray.

"I'm not in pain all the time, and that makes a big difference. But I can't walk, and that is infuriating," said Suzman, a former opposition member of Parliament and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

She was, however, occupying herself reading and writing. "And there's still work," she said.

Her personal assistant came in twice a week to deal with correspondence.

She was also watching television ("I'm a fan of Isidingo") and playing "a bit of bridge" with her friends.

"I've got a whole pile of books here that people have very kindly given me," she said.

Currently she was reading one she'd had for some time: Adam Hochschild's Bury The Chains, an account of the work of the British anti-slavery movement.

De Klerk, 70, underwent a routine operation on June 3 to remove a malignant colon tumour, but then developed a serious lung infection, and at one point was put on a ventilator in intensive care.

"He's now resolved that problem and he's made a good, strong, recovery," said his spokesperson Dave Steward.

He said De Klerk and his wife Elita were currently on holiday in Italy, where they had spent most of their time on the island of Capri.

From Italy, De Klerk would travel directly to London, to resume his work programme from the beginning of September, and from there to the United States.

He would be attending meetings of the Global Leadership Foundation, which he chairs, and resuming his role in the FW de Klerk Foundation.

Steward said as far as the cancer went, De Klerk's doctors had after the removal of the tumour not seen anything else of major concern, and De Klerk was currently on a mild course of chemotherapy as a preventive measure.

Asked how the hospitalisation had affected De Klerk's smoking habits, Steward said De Klerk in fact gave up smoking about ten months before the operation.

De Klerk has previously tried to abandon the habit, and has failed.

"This time he's succeeded in staying off cigarettes for it must be coming on a year now," Steward said.

De Klerk was president from 1989 to 1994, when he handed over the reins to Nelson Mandela after South Africa's first democratic election.

He retired from active politics in 1997, and now lives with Elita on a wine farm outside Paarl and plays an active role in his foundation, a body he set up in 2000 to play "a positive and constructive " role in the continuation of South Africa's democratic transformation.

He established the Global Leadership Foundation in 2004 to bring together former heads of state to provide advice on economic and political challenges to current national leaders. - Sapa

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