FW de Klerk: South Africa president who freed Nelson Mandela has died aged 85

The former president of South Africa has died at the age of 85 after being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year

FW de Klerk, former president of South Africa, has died aged 85. (Credit: Getty)

FW de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president of South Africa, has died aged 85.

The politician, who was an influential figure in South African politics, passed away in Cape Town after his cancer diagnosis was revealed earlier this year.

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A statement from the FW de Klerk Foundation on Thursday (11 November) morning read: “It is with the deepest sadness that the FW de Klerk Foundation must announce that former President FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer. Mr De Klerk was 85 years old. He is survived by his wife Elita, his children Jan and Susan and his grandchildren.”

At a glance: 5 key points

  • FW de Klerk has passed away at the age of 85 following a battle with cancer
  • De Klerk was former president of South Africa
  • He led the country from August 1989 until May 1994
  • He is known in South Africa and on the world stage for being instrumental in the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990
  • De Klerk was noted for being a key figure in South Africa’s transition to a democracy, becoming the last Apartheid-era president

Who is FW de Klerk?

Born in March 1936, FW de Klerk is the former South African president, having served the country from the late 80s until the mid 90s.

Upon taking the position of president in 1989, one year later de Klerk announced that he would remove the ban for other political parties including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

Mandela had been imprisoned from 1962 after being convicted of sabotage under Apartheid rules.

After releasing Mandela from prison, de Klerk became one of two deputy presidents under Mandela, who was voted as president in the country’s first multi-party election.

Both de Klerk and Mandela were awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their dismantling of the apartheid regime in South Africa and forming of a coalition government.

FW de Klerk alongside Nelson Mandela in 1990. (Credit: Getty)

In a statement announcing his death, the FW de Klerk Foundations said: “On 2 February 1990, South African President FW de Klerk delivered a speech at the opening of the 1990 session of the Parliament of South Africa.

“He announced sweeping reforms that marked the beginning of the negotiated transition from apartheid to constitutional democracy. The reforms included the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC), The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and other anti-apartheid organizations, the release of political prisoners -including Nelson Mandela- the end of the state of emergency and a moratorium on the death penalty.

“FW de Klerk’s actions and speech marked the official end of segregation policies and the official start of the negotiations that led to a constitutional democracy with equal rights for all South Africans.”

Despite this, de Klerk had been criticised by some anti-apartheid activists and campaigners who said that his apologies for the regime did not go far enough to acknowledge the human rights abuses suffered by black South Africans under apartheid.

He retired from active politics in August 1997.

Who has paid tribute to FW de Klerk?

The Democratic Alliance (DA), the party of which de Klerk was a member, shared a tribute to their former leader.

It said: “Mr de Klerk’s contribution to South Africa’s transition to democracy cannot be overstated. His decision, within a year of taking over the presidency from PW Botha in 1989, to unban liberation movements, release Nelson Mandela from prison, lift the ban on political marches and begin the four year negotiation process towards our first democratic election was a watershed moment in our country’s history.

“Importantly, he was also able to bring the majority of white voters along with him, and this played a critical role in ensuring that the transition happened peacefully and that the 1994 elections, as well as the constitutional negotiations, were embraced by all South Africans.

“The DA extends its deepest condolences to the de Klerk family – his wife, Elita, his children, Susan and Jan, and his grandchildren. May they find strength and comfort in this difficult time. And, rather than dividing our country, may his passing and his memory make us even more determined to work towards a united South Africa.”

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