Differing views on the legacy of FW de Klerk on the day of his death

12 November 2021 - 06:30
Former president FW De Klerk died on Thursday at the age of 85. File photo.
Former president FW De Klerk died on Thursday at the age of 85. File photo.
Image: Supplied

The death of the last apartheid president, FW De Klerk, has solicited differing views among politicians and South Africans in the hours after the announcement of his passing.

His foundation announced his death, related to mesothelioma cancer, on Thursday. 

But his passing has been met by differing views from family members of the victims of apartheid, to politicians and political analysts.

President Cyril Ramaphosa offered his condolences to the former president's family, saying he was saddened by his passing.

Other political leaders such as IFP founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Good leader Patricia de Lille and UDM leader Bantu Holomisa all sent their condolences.

Buthelezi described the news as a painful moment, not only for his family but for the entire nation.

“We have lost a champion of democratic principles and constitutionalism who served SA long after his retirement from governance,” he said.

Holomisa, who led the government in Transkei when De Klerk became president, said his role and willingness to engage about the future saved the country from a bloodbath.

De Klerk had been part of, and served under, the brutal apartheid regime until he worked his way up to the presidency in 1989 when he replaced PW Botha. The next year he took the decision to unban liberation movements, paving the way for the release of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, and a negotiation for a democratic SA.

After this transition, De Klerk was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with Mandela but his behaviour after he left the national government of unity has led to a lot of criticism among some South Africans and political parties.

This ended in clumsy protest scenes in parliament last year when the opposition EFF disrupted the state of the nation address because of the presence of De Klerk, who had denied that apartheid was a crime against humanity.

On Thursday, the EFF maintained the same posture, calling for Ramaphosa to not honour De Klerk with a state funeral of any category because he was an apartheid president.

 “As a president of apartheid, De Klerk holds no legitimate claim to any title or honour of having led this country. He was a president of an undemocratic and racist society, which elected him as a minority,” the party said.

PAC president Mzwanele Nyhontso shared similar sentiments, going as far as saying De Klerk's remains should be thrown into the sea, preferably not in African waters.

Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana questioned De Klerk's continued stance on apartheid.

“Whites never thought they did anything wrong with apartheid, and quite a number of them were racists and still are. So he was no exception from the rest of the white community, it's just that in his case he was a leader,” he said.

Another political analyst, Lukhona Mnguni, said it was expected that there would be differing views on De Klerk's legacy.

“South Africans will remember from their different vantage points in terms of where they stand on some historical questions around apartheid. I think in a moment like this we will probably have more personal reflections than objective reflections on legacy,” said Mnguni.

He said De Klerk's public posture was completely in denial of apartheid, its devastation and how much its legacy continues to persist in society today.

The spokesperson of the Calata Foundation, Lukhanyo Calata, said De Klerk took to the grave secrets of the deaths of anti-apartheid activists.

Calata is the son of Fort Calata who was one of the Cradock Four killed by the apartheid regime, together with Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli.

For years Calata has been working hard to get justice for his father and his three comrades.

It is sad that yet another apartheid criminal died without having accounted for the crimes he helped to perpetrate against our humanity,” said Calata.



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