Early life and education
Childhood: 1936–1954F. W. de Klerk was born on 18 March 1936 in , a suburb of . His parents were Johannes "Jan" de Klerk and Hendrina Cornelia Coetzer – "her forefather was a Kutzer who stems from ". He was his parents' second son, having a brother, Willem de Klerk, who was eight years his senior. De Klerk's first language is Afrikaans and the earliest of his distant ancestors to arrive in what is now South Africa did so in the late 1680s. De Klerk had a secure and comfortable upbringing, and his family had played a leading role in Afrikaner society; they had longstanding affiliations with South Africa's National Party. His paternal great-grandfather, Jan van Rooy, had been a senator, while his paternal grandfather, Willem, had been a clergyman who fought in the and who stood twice, unsuccessfully, as a National Party candidate. His paternal aunt's husband was J. G. Strijdom, a former Prime Minister. His own father, , was also a Senator, having served as the secretary of the National Party in Transvaal, president of the senate for seven years, and a member of the country's cabinet for fifteen years under three Prime Ministers. In this environment, de Klerk was exposed to politics from childhood. He and family members would be encouraged to hold family debates; his more conservative opinions would be challenged by his brother Willem, who was sympathetic to the more , "enlightened" faction of the National Party. Willem became a political analyst and later split from the National Party to found the liberal Democratic Party. The name "de Klerk" is derived from Le Clerc, Le Clercq and De Clercq, and is of French Huguenot origin (meaning "clergyman" or "literate" in old French). De Klerk noted that he is also of Dutch descent, with an Indian ancestor from the late-1690s or early 1700s. He is also said to be descended from the interpreter known as or Eva. When de Klerk was twelve years old, the system was officially institutionalised by the South African government; his father had been one of its originators. He therefore was, according to his brother, "one of a generation that grew up with the concept of apartheid". He was inculturated in the norms and values of Afrikaner society, including festivals like Kruger Day, loyalty to the Afrikaner nation, and stories of the "age of injustice" that the Afrikaner faced under the British. He was brought up in the Gereformeerde Kerk, the smallest and most of South Africa's three Dutch Reformed Churches. The de Klerk family moved around South Africa during his childhood, and he changed schools seven times over seven years. He eventually became a boarder at the Monument High School in , where he graduated with a first-class pass in 1953. He was nevertheless disappointed not to get the four distinctions he was hoping for.
University and legal careerBetween 1954 and 1958, de Klerk studied at , graduating with both a and a . He later noted that during this legal training, he "became accustomed to thinking in terms of legal principles". While studying there, he became editor of the student newspaper, vice-chair of the student council, and a member of the Afrikaanse Studentebond's national executive council. At university, he was initiated into the , a secret society for the Afrikaner social elite. As a student, he played both tennis and hockey and was known as "something of a ladies' man". At the university, he began a relationship with Marike Willemse, the daughter of a professor at the . The couple married in 1959, when de Klerk was 23 and his wife 22. After university, de Klerk pursued a legal career, becoming an with the firm Pelser in Klerksdorp. Relocating to Pretoria, he became an articled clerk for another law firm, Mac-Robert. In 1962, he set up his own law partnership in , Transvaal, which he built into a successful business over ten years. During this period, he involved himself in a range of other activities. He was the national chair of the Junior Rapportryers for two years, and chair of the Law Society of Vaal Triangle. He was also on the council of the local technikon, on the council of his church, and on a local school board.
Early political careerIn 1972, his alma mater offered him a chair in its law faculty, which he accepted. Within a matter of days he was also approached by members of the National Party, who requested that he stand for the party at . De Klerk's candidature was successful and in November he was elected to the . There, he established a reputation as a formidable debater. He took on a number of roles in the party and government. He became the information officer of the Transvaal National Party, responsible for its propaganda output, and helped to establish a new National Party youth movement. He joined various party parliamentary study groups, including those on the , labour, justice, and home affairs. As a member of various parliamentary groups, de Klerk went on several foreign visits, to Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, and United States. It was in the latter in 1976 that he observed what he later described as the pervasive racism of U.S. society, later noting that he "saw more racial incidents in one month there than in South Africa in a year". In South Africa, de Klerk also played a senior role in two select committees, one formulating a policy on opening hotels to non-Whites and the other formulating a new censorship law that was less strict than the one that had preceded it. In 1975, Prime Minister predicted that de Klerk would one day become leader of South Africa. Vorster planned to promote de Klerk to the position of a deputy minister in January 1976, but instead the job went to Andries Treurnicht. In April 1978, de Klerk was promoted to the position of Minister of Social Welfare and Pensions. In this role, he restored full autonomy to sporting control bodies which had for a time been under the jurisdiction of the government. As minister of Post and Telecommunications, he finalised contracts that oversaw the electrification of that sector. As Minister of Mining, he formalised a policy on coal exports and the structuring of Eskom and the Atomic Energy Corporation. He then became Minister of the Interior, he oversaw the repeal of the Mixed Marriages Act. In 1981, de Klerk was awarded the Decoration for Meritorious Service for his work in the government. As education minister between 1984-89, he upheld the apartheid system in South Africa's schools, and extended the department to cover all racial groups. For most of his career, de Klerk had a very conservative reputation, and was seen as someone who would obstruct change in South Africa. He had been a forceful proponent of apartheid's system of racial segregation and was perceived as an advocate of the white minority's interests. While serving under P. W. Botha's government, de Klerk was never part of Botha's inner circle.
State PresidentP. W. Botha resigned as leader of the National Party after an apparent stroke, and de Klerk defeated Botha's preferred successor, finance minister Barend du Plessis, in the race to succeed him. On 2 February 1989, he was elected leader of the National Party. He defeated main rival Barend du Plessis to the position by a majority of eight votes, 69–61. Soon after, he called for the introduction of a new South African constitution, hinting that it would need to provide greater concession to non-white racial groups. After becoming party leader, de Klerk extended his foreign contacts. He travelled to London, where he met with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Although she opposed the anti-apartheid movement's calls for economic sanctions against South Africa, at the meeting she urged de Klerk to release the imprisoned anti-apartheid activist . He also expressed a desire to meet with representatives of the U.S. government in Washington D.C., although American United States Secretary of State, Secretary of State James Baker informed him that the U.S. government considered it inopportune to have de Klerk meet with President of the United States, President George H. W. Bush.
Becoming State PresidentBotha resigned on 14 August, and de Klerk was named acting state president until 20 September, when he was elected to a full five-year term as state president. After he became acting president, ANC leaders spoke out against him, believing that he would be no different from his predecessors; he was widely regarded as a staunch supporter of apartheid. The prominent anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu shared this assessment, stating: "I don't think we've got to even begin to pretend that there is any reason for thinking that we are entering a new phase. It's just musical chairs". Tutu and Allan Boesak had been planning a protest march in Cape Town, which the security chiefs wanted to prevent. De Klerk nevertheless turned down their proposal to ban it, agreeing to let the march proceed and stating that "the door to a new South Africa is open, it is not necessary to batter it down". The march took place and was attended by approximately 30,000 people. Further protest marches followed in Grahamstown, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Durban. De Klerk later noted that his security forces could not have prevented the marchers from gathering: "The choice, therefore, was between breaking up an illegal march with all of the attendant risks of violence and negative publicity, or of allowing the march to continue, subject to conditions that could help to avoid violence and ensure good public order." This decision marked a clear departure from the approach of the Botha era. As President, he authorised the continuation of secret talks in Geneva between his National Intelligence Service and two exiled ANC leaders, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. In October, he personally agreed to meet with Tutu, Boesak, and Frank Chikane in a private meeting in Pretoria. That month, he also released a number of elderly anti-apartheid activists then imprisoned, including Walter Sisulu. He also ordered the closure of the National Security Management System. In December he visited Mandela in prison, speaking with him for three hours about the idea of transitioning away from white-minority rule. The collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the dissolution of the Soviet Union meant that he no longer feared that Marxism, Marxists would manipulate the ANC. As he later related, the collapse of "the Marxist economic system in Eastern Europe... serves as a warning to those who insist on persisting with it in Africa. Those who seek to force this failure of a system on South Africa should engage in a total revision of their point of view. It should be clear to all that it is not the answer here either." On 2 February 1990, in Speech at the Opening of the Parliament of South Africa, 1990, an address to the country's parliament, he introduced plans for sweeping reforms of the political system. A number of banned political parties, including the ANC and Communist Party of South Africa, would be legalised, although he emphasized that this did not constitute an endorsement of their socialist economic policies nor of violent actions carried out by their members, and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, 1953, Separate Amenities Act of 1953, which governed the segregation of public facilities, would be lifted and all of those who were imprisoned solely for belonging to a banned organisation would be freed, including Nelson Mandela; the latter was released a week later. The vision set forth in de Klerk's address was for South Africa to become a Western-style liberal democracy; with a market-oriented economy which valued private enterprise and restricted the government's role in economics. De Klerk later related that "that speech was mainly aimed at breaking our stalemate in Africa and the West. Internationally we were teetering on the edge of the abyss." Throughout South Africa and across the world, there was astonishment at de Klerk's move. Foreign press coverage was largely positive and de Klerk received messages of support from other governments. Tutu said that "It's incredible... Give him credit. Give him credit, I do." Some black radicals regarded it as a gimmick and that it would prove to be without substance. It was also received negatively by some on the white right-wing, including in the Conservative Party (South Africa), Conservative Party, who believed that de Klerk was betraying the white population. De Klerk believed that the sudden growth of the Conservatives and other white right-wing groups was a passing phase reflecting anxiety and insecurity. These white right-wing groups were aware that they would not get what they wanted through the forthcoming negotiations, and so increasingly tried to derail the negotiations using revolutionary violence. The white-dominated liberal Democratic Party, meanwhile, found itself in limbo, as de Klerk embraced much of the platform it had espoused, leaving it without a clear purpose. Further reforms followed; membership of the National Party was opened up to non-whites. In June, parliament approved new legislation that repealed the Natives Land Act, 1913 and Native Trust and Land Act, 1936. The Population Registration Act, which established the racial classificatory guidelines for South Africa, was rescinded. In legislative terms, he enabled the gradual end of apartheid. De Klerk also opened the way for the negotiations of the government with the anti-apartheid-opposition about a new constitution for the country. Nevertheless, he was accused by Anthony Sampson of complicity in the violence among the ANC, the Inkatha Freedom Party and elements of the security forces. In ''Mandela: The Authorised Biography'', Sampson accuses de Klerk of permitting his ministers to build their own criminal empires.
Negotiations toward universal suffrageHis presidency was dominated by the Negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa, negotiation process, mainly between his NP government and the ANC, which led to the democratization of South Africa. Throughout the negotiations, de Klerk primarily sought to prevent majority rule to preserve power for the white South African minority. His efforts, however, were thwarted when the Boipatong massacre caused a resurgence of international pressure against South Africa, leading to a weaker position at the negotiation tables for the National Party. In 1992, de Klerk held a whites-only 1992 South African apartheid referendum, referendum on ending apartheid, with the result being an overwhelming "yes" vote to continue negotiations to end apartheid. Nelson Mandela was distrustful of the role played by de Klerk in the negotiations, particularly as he believed that de Klerk was knowledgeable about 'third force' attempts to foment violence in the country and destabilize the negotiations. In 1990, de Klerk gave orders to end South Africa and weapons of mass destruction, South Africa's nuclear weapons programme; the process of nuclear disarmament was essentially completed in 1991. The existence of the nuclear programme was not officially acknowledged before 1993. In 1993, de Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the for their work in ending apartheid. The awarding of the prize to de Klerk was controversial, especially in the light of de Klerk's reported admission that he ordered a 1993 raid on Mthatha, massacre of supposed Azanian People's Liberation Army fighters, including teenagers, shortly before going to Oslo in 1993. It appears that this massacre may form part of the basis for criminal charges that the Anti-Racism Action Forum laid against de Klerk in early 2016. Further, de Klerk's role in the destabilization of the country during the negotiation process through the operation of a 'third force' came to the attention of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was never ultimately clarified. In 1993, de Klerk issued an apology for the actions of the apartheid government, stating that: "It was not our intention to deprive people of their rights and to cause misery, but eventually apartheid led to just that. Insofar as to what occurred we deeply regret it... Yes we are sorry". Tutu urged for people to accept the apology, stating that "saying sorry is not an easy thing to do... We should be magnanimous and accept it as a magnanimous act", although Tutu was privately frustrated that de Klerk's apology had been qualified and had not gone so far as to call apartheid an intrinsically evil policy. After the first 1994 South African general election, universal elections in 1994, de Klerk became deputy president in the government of national unity under Nelson Mandela; in 1996, de Klerk withdrew the National Party from Mandela's government, becoming leader of the official opposition. In 1997 he resigned the leadership of the National Party and retired from politics.
Vice PresidencyDe Klerk had been unhappy that changes had been made to the inauguration ceremony, rendering it multi-religious rather than reflecting the newly elected leader's particular denomination. When he was being sworn in, and the chief justice said "So help me God", de Klerk did not repeat this, instead stating, in Afrikaans: "So help me the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". Mandela reappointed de Klerk's finance minister, Derek Keys, and retained Chris Stals, a former member of the Broederbond, as the head of the Central Bank. De Klerk supported the coalition's economic policies, stating that it "accepted a broad framework of responsible economic policies". De Klerk's working relationship with Mandela was often strained, with the former finding it difficult adjusting to the fact that he was no longer president. De Klerk also felt that Mandela deliberately humiliated him, while Mandela found de Klerk to be needlessly provocative in cabinet. One dispute occurred in September 1995, after Mandela gave a Johannesburg speech criticising the National Party. Angered, de Klerk avoided Mandela until the latter requested they meet; when they ran into each other, they publicly argued in the street. Mandela later expressed regret for their disagreement but did not apologise for his original comments. De Klerk was also having problems from within his own party, some of whose members claimed that he was neglecting the party while in the government. Many in the National Party—including many members of its executive committee—were unhappy with the other parties' agreed upon new constitution in May 1996. The party had wanted the constitution to guarantee that it would be represented in the government until 2004, although it did not do so. On 9 May, de Klerk withdrew the National Party from the coalition government. The decision shocked several of his six fellow Afrikaner cabinet colleagues; Pik Botha, for example, was left without a job as a result. Roelf Meyer felt betrayed by de Klerk's act, while Leon Wessels thought that de Klerk had not tried hard enough to make the coalition work. De Klerk declared that he would lead the National Party in vigorous opposition to Mandela's government to ensure "a proper multi-party democracy, without which there may be a danger of South Africa lapsing into the African pattern of single party state, one-party states".
Truth and Reconciliation CommissionIn de Klerk's view, his greatest defeat in the negotiations with Mandela had been his inability to secure a blanket amnesty for all those working for the government or state during the apartheid period. De Klerk was unhappy with the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). He had hoped that the TRC would be made up of an equal number of individuals from both the old and new governments, as there had been in the Rettig Report, Chilean human rights commission. Instead, the TRC was designed to broadly reflect the wider diversity of South African society, and contained only two members who had explicitly supported apartheid, one a member of a right-wing group that had opposed de Klerk's National Party. De Klerk did not object to Tutu being selected as the TRC's chair for he regarded him as politically independent of Mandela's government, but he was upset that the white Progressive Party (South Africa), Progressive Party MP Alex Boraine had been selected as its deputy chair, later saying of Boraine: "beneath an urbane and deceptively affable exterior beat the heart of a zealot and an inquisitor." De Klerk appeared before the TRC hearing to testify for Vlakplaas commanders who were accused of having committed human rights abuses during the apartheid era. He acknowledged that security forces had resorted to "unconventional strategies" in dealing with anti-apartheid revolutionaries, but that "within my knowledge and experience, they never included the authorisation of assassination, murder, torture, rape, assault or the like". After further evidence of said abuses was produced by the commission, de Klerk stated that he found the revelations to be "as shocking and as abhorrent as anybody else" but insisted that he and other senior party members were not willing to accept responsibility for the "criminal actions of a handful of operatives", stating that their behaviour was "not authorised [and] not intended" by his government. Given the widespread and systemic nature of the abuses that had taken place, as well as statements by security officers that their actions had been sanctioned by higher ranking figures, Tutu questioned how de Klerk and other government figures could not have been aware of them. Tutu had hoped that de Klerk or another senior white political figure from the apartheid era would openly accept responsibility for the human rights abuses, thereby allowing South Africa to move on; this was something that de Klerk would not do. The TRC found de Klerk guilty of being an accessory to gross violations of human rights on the basis that as State President he had been told that P. W. Botha had authorised the bombing of Khotso House but had not revealed this information to the Committee. De Klerk challenged the TRC on this point, and it backed down. When the final TRC report was released 2002, it made a more limited accusation: that de Klerk had failed to give full disclosure about events that took place during his presidency and that in view of his knowledge about the Khotso House bombing, his statement that none of his colleagues had authorised gross human rights abuses was "indefensible". In his later autobiography, de Klerk acknowledged that the TRC did significant damage to his public image.
Later lifeIn 1997, de Klerk was offered the Harper Fellowship at Yale Law School. He declined, citing protests at the university. De Klerk did, however, Robert C. Vance Distinguished Lecture Series, speak at Central Connecticut State University the day before his fellowship would have begun. In 1999, de Klerk and his wife of 38 years, Marike de Klerk, were divorced following the discovery of his affair with Elita Georgiades, then the wife of Tony Georgiades, a Greek shipping tycoon who had allegedly given de Klerk and the NP financial support. Soon after his divorce, de Klerk and Georgiades were married. His divorce and remarriage scandalised conservative South African opinion, especially among the Afrikaner Calvinism, Calvinist Afrikaners. In 2000, his autobiography, ''The Last Trek – A New Beginning'', was published. In 2002, following the murder of his former wife, the manuscript of her own autobiography, ''A Place Where the Sun Shines Again'', was submitted to de Klerk, who urged the publishers to suppress a chapter dealing with his infidelity. In 2000, de Klerk established the pro-peace FW de Klerk Foundation of which he is the chairman. De Klerk is also chairman of the Global Leadership Foundation, headquartered in London, which he set up in 2004, an organisation which works to support democratic leadership, prevent and resolve conflict through mediation and promote good governance in the form of democratic institutions, open markets, human rights and the rule of law. It does so by making available, discreetly and in confidence, the experience of former leaders to today's national leaders. It is a not-for-profit organisation composed of former heads of government and senior governmental and international organisation officials who work closely with heads of government on governance-related issues of concern to them. On 3 December 2001, Marike de Klerk was found stabbed and strangled to death in her Cape Town flat. De Klerk, who was on a brief visit to Stockholm, Sweden, to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Nobel Prize foundation, immediately returned to mourn his dead ex-wife. The atrocity was reportedly condemned strongly by South African president Thabo Mbeki and Winnie Mandela, among others, who openly spoke in favour of Marike de Klerk. On 6 December 21-year-old security guard Luyanda Mboniswa was arrested for the murder. On 15 May 2003, he received two life sentences for murder, as well as three years for breaking into Marike de Klerk's apartment. In 2004, de Klerk quit the New National Party and sought a new political home after the NNP merged with the ruling ANC. That same year, while giving an interview to US journalist Richard Stengel, de Klerk was asked whether South Africa had turned out the way he envisioned it back in 1990. His response was:
There are a number of imperfections in the new South Africa where I would have hoped that things would be better, but on balance I think we have basically achieved what we set out to achieve. And if I were to draw balance sheets on where South Africa stands now, I would say that the positive outweighs the negative by far. There is a tendency by commentators across the world to focus on the few negatives which are quite negative, like how are we handling AIDS, like our role vis-à-vis Zimbabwe. But the positives – the stability in South Africa, the adherence to well-balanced economic policies, fighting inflation, doing all the right things in order to lay the basis and the foundation for sustained economic growth – are in place.In 2008, he repeated in a speech that "despite all the negatives facing South Africa, he is very positive about the country". In 2006, he underwent surgery for a malignant tumour in his colon. His condition deteriorated sharply, and he underwent a tracheotomy after developing respiratory problems. He recovered and on 11 September 2006 gave a speech at Kent State University Stark Campus.de Klerk
IdeologyDe Klerk was widely regarded as a politically conservative figure in South Africa. At the same time, he was flexible rather than dogmatic in his approach to political issues. He often hedged his bets and sought to accommodate divergent perspectives, favouring compromise over confrontation. Within the National Party, he continually strove for unity, coming to be regarded—according to his brother—as "a party man, a veritable Mr National Party". To stem defections from the right-wing end of the National Party, he made "ultra-conservative noises". This general approach led to the perception that he was "trying to be all things to all men". De Klerk stated that within the party, he "never formed part of a political school of thought, and I deliberately kept out of the cliques and foments of the enlightened and conservative factions in the party. If the policy I propounded was ultra-conservative, then that was the policy; it was not necessarily I who was ultra-conservative. I saw my role in the party as that of an interpreter of the party's real median policy at any stage." De Klerk stated that "The silver thread throughout my career was my advocacy of National Party policy in all its various formulations. I refrained from adjusting that policy or adapting it to my own liking or convictions. I analysed it as it was formulated, to the letter." For much of his career, de Klerk believed in apartheid and its system of racial segregation. According to his brother, de Klerk underwent a "political conversion" that took him from supporting apartheid to facilitating its demolition. This change was not "a dramatic event" however, but "was built... on pragmatism - it evolved as a process." He did not believe that South Africa would become a "non-racial society", but rather sought to build a "non-racist society" in which ethnic divisions remained; in his view "I do not believe in the existence of anything like a non-racial society in the literal sense of the word", citing the example of the United States and United Kingdom where there was no legal racial segregation but that distinct racial groups continued to exist. De Klerk accepted the principle of freedom of religion, although still believed that the state should promote Christianity. De Klerk has written in opposition to gender-based violence, arguing that "holding perpetrators accountable, irrespective of how long ago the crime was committed, is essential to stamping out impunity and preventing future atrocities".
Personality and personal lifeGlad and Blanton stated that de Klerk's "political choices were undergirded by self-confidence and commitment to the common good." His brother Willem stated that de Klerk's demeanour was marked by "soberness, humility and calm", that he was an honest, intelligent, and open minded individual, and that he had a "natural cordiality" and a "solid sense of courtesy and good manners". He felt that de Klerk's "charisma" came not from an "exceptionally strong individualism" but from "his rationality, logic and balance". He was, according to de Klerk, "a man of compromise rather than a political innovator or entrepreneur". Willem stated that "he keeps an ear to the ground and is sensitive to the slightest tremors", and that it was this which made him "a superb politician". Willem also stated that his brother was "a team-man who consults others, takes them into his confidence, honestly shares information with his colleagues, and has a knack of making people feel importance and at peace". His former wife Marike described de Klerk as being "extremely sensitive to beautiful things", exhibiting something akin to an artistic temperament. Willem also noted that "in the most profound sense", de Klerk was driven by his concern for Afrikanerdom and "the survival of his own people in their fatherland". De Klerk was deeply upset that many Afrikaners did not realise that his reforms to dismantle apartheid were carried out with the intention of preserving a future for the Afrikaner people in South Africa. With Marike, de Klerk had three children: Susan, who became a teacher, Jan, who became a farmer in Western Transvaal, and Willem, who went into public relations. Willem stated that de Klerk had a close relationship with his children, and that he was "a loving man who hugs and cuddles". De Klerk was a heavy smoker but gave up smoking towards the end of 2005. He also enjoys a glass of whisky or wine while relaxing. He enjoys playing golf and hunting, as well as going for brisk walks. On March 19, 2021 it was announced that he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/fw-de-klerk-diagnosed-with-cancer-undergoes-treatment-b085e48a-895e-42ba-817b-1d20b3a61d3c
Reception and legacyGlad and Blanton stated that de Klerk, along with Mandela, "accomplished the rare feat of bringing about systemic revolution through peaceful means." His brother noted that de Klerk's role in South African history was "to dismantle more than three centuries of white supremacy", and that in doing so his was "not a role of white surrender, but a role of white conversion to a new role" in society. In September 1990, Potchefstroom University awarded de Klerk with an honorary doctorate. South Africa's Conservative Party came to regard him as its most hated adversary.
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