De Klerk, F. W. (South Africa)

Reference work entry


F. W. de Klerk, served as the President of South Africa from 1989–94, and whilst in power was the joint architect of the end of apartheid and the introduction of universal suffrage.

Early Life

De Klerk was born in Johannesburg on 18 March 1936 the son of a prominent politician, Jan de Klerk, a cabinet minister and president of Southern Africa’s Senate. De Klerk studied at Potchefstroom University and graduated with a law degree in 1958. He began his political life in 1972 when he was elected to parliament as a National Party representative for Vereeniging. In 1978 he joined the cabinet as minister of posts and telecommunications in the Vorster government. He went on to hold successive ministerial portfolios under the leadership of Pieter W. Botha, including environmental planning (1979–80), internal affairs (1982–5) and education (1984–9). In 1982 de Klerk was named as the head of the National Party in Transvaal and was chosen as the party’s leader in 1989. In the same year he became president of South Africa following the resignation of PW Botha.

Career Peak

De Klerk made it clear from the beginning of his tenure that he would attempt to dismantle the apparatus of apartheid. In 1990 he lifted a 30 year ban on the African National Congress and freed the ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, from Victor Verster Prison on Robben Island. De Klerk’s government gradually began to introduce legislation that reduced segregation and discrimination. A referendum was held in 1992 in which almost 70% of the white population endorsed the programme of reforms. In 1993 de Klerk and Nelson Mandela agreed on a timetable for the implementation of majority rule. In the same year the two men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic Southern Africa…’ In the democratic elections that took place in 1994 de Klerk lost to Mandela but subsequently served as deputy president in the National-ANC coalition government.

Later Life

De Klerk retired from politics after resigning as leader of the National Party in 1997. In Jan. 1999 he published his autobiography The Last Trek—A New Beginning. He has since established the FW de Klerk Foundation which encourages the development of peaceful co-operation between conflicting ethnic, tribal and religious communities.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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