World mourns death of former South African president FW de Klerk

De Klerk will be remembered as a figure uniting the country after the end of apartheid, but also for signing a peace treaty with the apartheid regime during apartheid Former South African president and…

World mourns death of former South African president FW de Klerk

De Klerk will be remembered as a figure uniting the country after the end of apartheid, but also for signing a peace treaty with the apartheid regime during apartheid

Former South African president and Nobel laureate FW de Klerk has died, the presidency has said. He was 85.

De Klerk, who became president during Nelson Mandela’s transition to power, will be remembered as a politician uniting the country after the end of apartheid and as a man who relied on business associates and other establishment figures. But he also drew public condemnation for ending apartheid after five decades of racial segregation.

Profile What is the Life of De Klerk? Show Hide Kgalema Motlanthe The son of a pastor, he learned to speak Yiddish as a child, making him a fluent Hebrew speaker – a good precursor to learning Afrikaans when he met FW de Klerk at Witwatersrand University, Pretoria. During the apartheid era, he became foreign minister, one of only two post-apartheid figures to hold that position, alongside Mbeki. Helped negotiate transition from apartheid to democracy, allowing Mandela to become president. His son Mtshabe, who was 10 when he died, was Mandela’s nephew. “He was just a brilliant man,” said South African veteran activist Ahmed Kathrada. “It’s a matter of record that [Mandela] allowed him to be foreign minister because he was his friend, because FW was a comrade and … a comrade who could trust him, and we trusted him. I don’t think you can measure in words what he contributed.” FW de Klerk, president, after winning general elections in 1994 and signing a transitional accord with Mandela: “The problems of apartheid are not some type of peculiarity of our nation. We shall complete the unfinished business of our struggle by completing the unfinished business of apartheid.” File photo 1992 de Klerk, then president, at Pretoria’s Union Buildings, where South Africa signed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1998. “It was in that building … that South Africa signed the pledge to take its place as a modern democratic state,” de Klerk said. “For almost 30 years, this building was the prison of our nation.” Photograph: Boris Jordans/EPA

“We pay tribute to the life of our former president, FW de Klerk, who led our nation during turbulent times and then received the Nobel Peace Prize,” the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said in a statement.

“His selfless service to the nation and his transformation from apartheid stalwart to peacemaker will forever be remembered and revered.”

The government said de Klerk had died at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town.

De Klerk was elected South Africa’s fifth president in 1994, taking over from FW de Klerk, who had been South Africa’s last white president.

He spearheaded Mandela’s move to the forefront of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) – meeting the icon, describing him as unwell, and introducing him to key allies to help persuade him to back Mandela in his election as South Africa’s first black president.

De Klerk and Mandela sent their condolences to the family of current president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ronald Evans, who knew de Klerk for more than 25 years, said he was not the idealist he was sometimes portrayed to be.

“One thing the public did not like him for was his very conservative economic policies – no opening up of South Africa, no tax reform, especially when it came to central bank policy,” Evans said.

“The greatest tragedy for him, post-apartheid, was his inability to be reunited with then wife, Sylvia [Barry], but, after that, he’s a terrific man who now is part of history.”

De Klerk was also jailed for 18 years during the apartheid era.

His second wife, Karen Vos, published a memoir in 2014 in which she recalled what she remembered him wearing while imprisoned.

“For the next 20 years he would go to prison with nothing but a sack of beans and an old pair of pants,” she wrote. “His level of melancholy was constant, and it did not let up.”

After he was released, he started his political career in his home province of Free State by leading a group that fought for more freedom for blacks. He defeated Mandela by a whisker in a race for a seat in parliament in 1984.

He ascended to the presidency in 1994 after de Klerk suffered a stroke and was unable to

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