FW de Klerk: South Africa’s final apartheid-era president dies age 85

The FW de Klerk Foundation’s spokesperson Dave Steward confirmed his death to News24 on Thursday.

“The former president died earlier this morning at his home in Fresnaye after his struggle against cancer.

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

Mr de Klerk succeeded PW Botha as the leader of the National Party in February 1989 after Mr Botha suffered a stroke and resigned from the party leadership.

He was the head of state from September 1989 until May 1994 and became one of the country’s two deputy presidents after the vote.

It was Mr de Klerk who in a speech to South Africa’s parliament on February 2, 1990, announced that anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela would be released from prison after 27 years.

Deputy President FW de Klerk with President Nelson Mandela waiting for the arrival of Pope John Paul II in Johannesburg in 1995

/ AFP via Getty Images

The announcement electrifying a country that for decades had been scorned and sanctioned by much of the world for its brutal system of racial discrimination.

With South Africa’s isolation deepening and its once-solid economy deteriorating, Mr de Klerk – who had been elected president five months earlier – also announced in the same speech the lifting of the ban on the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid political groups.

Amid gasps, several members of parliament left the chamber as he spoke.

Nine days later, Mr Mandela walked free.

Four years after that, Mr Mandela was elected as the country’s first black president as black people voted for the first time.

By then, Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their often tense co-operation in moving South Africa away from institutionalised racism and towards democracy.

However his role in the transition to democracy remains highly contested.

Mr de Klerk’s foundation announced in the summer that the former president had been diagnosed with mesothelioma in March. Mesothelioma is a cancer that mainly affects the tissue the covers the lining of each lung.

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