FW de Klerk remains a dividing force, even after his death

Siviwe Feketha Political reporter
FW de Klerk.
FW de Klerk.
Image: Ambrose Peters

The polarising legacy of the last apartheid president FW de Klerk came to bare on Thursday as condolences poured in following the announcement of his passing at the age of 85.

His foundation announced that De Klerk had died earlier on Thursday morning at his Fresnaye home in Cape Town following a long battle with mesothelioma cancer.

De Klerk had been the head of state during the last years of apartheid rule, from 1989 until 1994, before serving as SA’s deputy president under the late Nelson Mandela in the government of national unity until 1996.

While many South Africans berated him for his role in aiding apartheid and his alleged hand in the atrocities that took placed in the dying years of the oppressive regime, others credited him for having helped facilitate the transition to democracy, including Mandela’s  release.

For this, he shared a Nobel Peace Prize with the late statesman.

Reacting to his passing, the Nelson Mandela Foundation expressed sadness at his passing as it said it had worked with him and his foundation on numerous projects.

“De Klerk’s legacy is a big one. It is also an uneven one, something South Africans are called to reckon with at this moment,” the foundation said.

De Klerk’s legacy is a big one. It is also an uneven one, something South Africans are called to reckon with at this moment

Journalist Lukhanyo Calata, whose father and anti-apartheid activist Fort Calata was murdered by the apartheid regime in 1985 as part of what is known as the Cradock Four, took to social media and took a swipe at the statement by the De Klerk Foundation, which said he had died peacefully at home.

“Died peacefully … they tell us. Unlike those whose murders he ordered. Hopefully now he’ll answer for the crimes he committed against our humanity for the Lord is just, unlike the ANC,” Calata said.

This was in relation to criticism that the ANC-led government had done little to make sure those who had a hand in apartheid atrocities were held to account.

DA leader John Steenhuisen praised De Klerk for helping dismantle apartheid and for working to strengthen the country’s constitutional democracy post-1994.

“Importantly, he was also able to bring the majority of white voters along with him, and this played a critical role in ensuring that the transition happened peacefully and that the 1994 elections, as well as the constitutional negotiations, were embraced by all South Africans. This process required calm heads and responsible leadership on both sides of the table, and it was fitting that both he and Nelson Mandela were honoured in 1993 with the shared Nobel Peace Prize,” he said.

IFP founding leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who served with him under Mandela’s cabinet, however, described De Klerk as a champion of democratic principles and indicated that he had undergone a change of heart, which became a “driving force towards a new dispensation”.

“This was not merely a change of his own heart but a change in our entire country. History bestowed on former president de Klerk the unique privilege of taking us across the threshold. In announcing the release of Mr Mandela and other political prisoners, and the unbanning of political parties on 2 February 1990, he opened the way for inclusive democratic negotiations. It was the beginning of our shared future,” he said.

While the EFF, which had berated De Klerk over the years over his continued celebration and recognition as a former president, did not immediately react to his passing, its leaders took to social media to celebrate alongside those who still berated him over his controversial legacy.

Reacting to the news as they broke, EFF leader Julius Malema said: “Thank God.”

The De Klerk Foundation indicated that it would later issue details of his funeral arrangements.