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Frederik Willem de Klerk

(b. 1936) South African statesman


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(b. 18 Mar. 1936).

President of South Africa 1989–94

Early career

Born in Johannesburg, he entered the National Party (NP) youth organization (Jeugbond), proceeded to study law and became an attorney in Vereeniging in 1961. A Member of Parliament for the NP since 1972, he became a Cabinet minister in 1978. As leader of the pivotal Transvaal section of the NP (from 1982), he became leader of the NP following P. W. Botha's stroke on 2 February 1989. He took part in ‘encouraging’ Botha to resign and became President himself on 15 August 1989. A pragmatic politician, he accepted the need to come to an agreement with the Black majority of the country, particularly as long as it was still represented by a unified and relatively moderate leadership.

The end of apartheid (from 1990)

In a dramatic speech opening the South African parliament in Cape Town on 2 February 1990, de Klerk announced a radical change in government policy on apartheid, announcing a ‘new South Africa’ based on the principle of racial equality. Almost immediately he ordered the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners (11 February 1990), simultaneously lifting the ban on the PAC, ANC, and the Communist Party. He entered negotiations with Mandela and other Black leaders such as Buthelezi about the transition towards a multi‐racial democracy. In 1992 he called a referendum among White South Africans in which two‐thirds approved an end to the apartheid system, which was duly implemented. In 1993 he received the Nobel Peace Prize, together with Mandela.

In the first free, universal election in South Africa's history, under his leadership the NP won 20.4 per cent of the popular vote, thus becoming the country's second biggest party after the ANC. He achieved this result through managing to appeal to many people of mixed race (‘Coloureds’) and exploiting their fears about the ANC's inexperience in government. With Mbeki he became Deputy Prime Minister, but he subsequently failed to extend the NP's popular base to the Black communities. In 1996, he led his party out of the coalition of ‘National Unity’ with the ANC to become leader of the opposition. In 1997 he retired from politics, stating that he was too implicated in the former apartheid regimes to lead his party to a fresh start.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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