FW de Klerk, historic South African leader, dies at 85

Former South African President FW de Klerk died in Johannesburg, South Africa on Thursday, according to the foreign ministry of the country. He was 85.

De Klerk was South Africa’s last white prime minister and spent the last decade of his life lobbying for a strong international response to President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

De Klerk, whose anti-apartheid government united the country while insisting on racial reconciliation, retired in 2009.

De Klerk’s legacy in South Africa is mixed. Critics say that he permitted his government to allow the resurgence of white supremacy. For the most part, though, de Klerk was judged for his role in the end of apartheid, an era when blacks were ruled as serfs by an all-white minority in a land where the majority of citizens are black.

“FW de Klerk was a beacon of hope at a time when the globe was collectively celebrating the end of apartheid,” said Richard M. Benyon, chief executive of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the country’s second-largest university. “He embodied the best of international diplomacy and embodies the best of liberal realism.

“He helped bring much-needed stability to a fractured continent by negotiating a peaceful and peaceful transition to democracy,” Benyon said.

READ MORE: Remembering the legacy of FW de Klerk: ‘There were moments of fear, but we could and we would prevail’

After de Klerk took office, whites voted to allow blacks to participate in an initial vote to decide on the country’s future. It was the closest thing blacks and whites ever had to the national elections that marked the end of apartheid, when thousands of black voters gathered in Soweto to elect their next leaders.

De Klerk agreed to the national elections in May 1994, but was careful to make sure that he had the backing of the opposition parties in the country’s parliament.

President Nelson Mandela surprised South Africa when he issued a statement of condolence on Thursday, saying, “There are few leaders who have such recognition of the place of the United States in our history, in our continent’s history and in the future of the whole world.”

“May the soul of FW de Klerk be at peace and may his successor help to realize the many great and enduring legacies of the decades of struggle and of his own,” Mandela said.

Tributes came in from around the world. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki said de Klerk was a “man of great distinction,” according to the South African website Afrikaans-Irris.

Trump tweeted about de Klerk’s death on Thursday, calling him a “great man who led South Africa with wisdom, strength and honor.”

READ MORE: Trump greets world leaders with frosty love for Israel, slams ‘fake news’ news coverage

Pope Francis expressed his sadness over the death of de Klerk.

“I express my heartfelt condolences to the government and people of South Africa,” Francis said. “I join all South Africans in praying for FW de Klerk who, with patience and courage, after being the first democratically elected President of South Africa and losing the 1976 massacre of the 29 priests and the 180 lay people, took on the responsibility of reconciliation for his country.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment