F.W. de Klerk

By: Victoria Yates

Frederik Willem de Klerk was born on March 18th 1936 in Johannesburg, the son of Senator Jan de Klerk a leading politician. He studied law in Potchefstroom University (now North-West University), before going on to practice in the Transvaal where he helped form one of the leading law practices outside of South Africa's metropolitan areas.

 

In 1972 he turned down a professorship after being elected to parliament for the National Party for Vereeniging. In 1978 he was appointed the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Social Welfare and Pensions under Prime Minister Vorster. He held several different governmental posts during the administration of Prime Minister Botha - including Mines, Energy and Environmental planning, Mineral and Energy affairs, and Internal affairs, as well as National Education and planning.

 

In 1985 he became the Chairman of the Minister's Council in the House of Assembly and on the 1st of December '86 he became the leader of the House of Assembly.

Whilst Minister of National Education, de Klerk was a supporter of segregated universities. However he fought for equalisation of expenditure on all racial groups. As leader of the National Party in Transvaal he was not known as an advocate of social reform. But in February 1989 de Klerk was elected as the leader of the National Party before taking being elected as State President in September 1989.

His first speech advocated a non-racist South Africa and on the 2nd of February 1990 he lifted a ban on the ANC (African National Congress) and all other political organisations. He also ordered the release of Nelson Mandela. His actions brought an end to Apartheid, and enabled the drafting of a new constitution based on the idea of "one person, one vote" as well as the entrenchment of basic human rights.

When South Africa held the first universal and free elections (26th April 1994) , Mandela was elected President and de Klerk was elected as Executive Deputy President for the Government of National Unity. He retired from active politics in 1997. In 2000 he founded The F W de Klerk Foundation which "aims to promote peace in multi-community states." He also created the Global Leadership Foundation in 2004, whose objective is to play a constructive role in the promotion of peace, democracy and development.

Over his lifetime he has received numerous accolades; the South African Decoration for Meritorious Service, the Prix du Courage Internationale (The Prize for Political Courage), co-recipient of the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Prize, and the Prince of Asturias Prize in Spain.

In July 1993 he received, jointly with Nelson Mandela, the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2002, President Thabo Mbeki bestowed on F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela the order of Mapungubwe: Gold in honour of their exceptional contribution to the process of peace, national reconciliation and nation building.

De Klerk is an exceptional example of the changes that thoughtful and strong leadership can achieve.