De Klerk 'failed to acknowledge' apartheid damage: Tutu foundation

11 November 2021 - 19:31

FW de Klerk, the last president of apartheid SA, missed several opportunities to acknowledge the full extent of damage caused by apartheid, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said on Thursday evening.

“That damage is with us today. We are in many ways a broken society,” the foundation said in a statement.

De Klerk, who played a pivotal part in the country’s transition to democracy, died at the age of 85 at his home in Fresnaye, Cape Town, on Thursday morning after his struggle with mesothelioma cancer.

He is survived by his wife Elita, his children Jan and Susan and his grandchildren.

De Klerk disclosed on his 85th birthday in March that he was suffering from cancer, which affects the lining of the lungs. He was undergoing immunotherapy to treat it. The announcement came less than a year after his son Willem died of cancer in Durbanville at the age of 53.

Referred to as “the last white ruler of SA,” De Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with Nelson Mandela “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic SA”.

He had ruled over the final years of apartheid between 1989 and 1994.

But Archbishop Tutu said De Klerk missed many chances to fully reconcile with all South Africans about the extent of apartheid.

“Mr de Klerk could have gone down in history as a truly great South African statesman, but he eroded his stature and became a small man, lacking magnanimity and generosity of spirit,” Tutu said.

The foundation said De Klerk also refused to acknowledge in February last year that apartheid was a crime against humanity.

“De Klerk’s adult life can be summed up in three phases — the first was as a faithful disciple of the apartheid ideology, which he implemented with ruthless efficiency and which brought him to prominence among his fellow apartheid-era cabinet ministers.

“In the second, as a new president, de Klerk brokered a deal that changed the course of history and brought democracy to SA. In the third, he refused to acknowledge the full extent of the social, economic and political damage caused by apartheid.”

Foundation CEO Piyushi Kotecha said no-one would be able to take away the role de Klerk played in changing the course of history in 1990, but the third phase of his career was disappointing.

“He also refused to acknowledge apartheid as an atrocious crime against humanity. He went on to become something of an apologist for apartheid on the global speaking circuit. This is, sadly, a part of history best forgotten.”

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