President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday said he “learned with great sadness of the passing of former deputy president and former State President Frederik Willem FW de Klerk”.
De Klerk passed away earlier today, Thursday, 11 November 2021, after an extended period of illness. He was 85 years of age.
“I offer my sincerest condolences to his wife, Elita, his children Jan and Susan, and his grandchildren,” said Ramaphosa.
“My thoughts are also with Mr De Klerk’s friends and associates and the management and staff of the FW de Klerk Foundation.”
Ramaphosa said De Klerk “played a vital role in our transition to democracy in the 1990s, which originated from his first meeting in 1989 with President Nelson Mandela who was a political prisoner at that stage”.
The president said De Klerk took the courageous decision to unban political parties, release political prisoners and enter into negotiations with the liberation movement amid severe pressure to the contrary from many in his political constituency.
As deputy president from 1994 to 1996, De Klerk was a committed South African who embraced the democratic constitutional dispensation and placed the long-term future of the country ahead of narrow political interests.
De Klerk played an important role in the Government of National Unity, dedicating himself to the constitutional imperative of healing the divisions and conflict of our past.
“Deputy President De Klerk’s passing, weeks before the 25th anniversary of our democratic Constitution, should inspire all of us to reflect on the birth of our democracy and on our shared duty to remain true to the values of our Constitution,” said Ramaphosa.
“May his soul rest in peace.”
There were many other reactions to the death of apartheid’s last president.
Leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) John Steenhuisen said his party “notes with sadness” the passing of the Nobel laureate who lost his battle with cancer.
Steenhuisen credited De Klerk with ending apartheid and dismantling South Africa’s nuclear weapons programme.
“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,” said Steenhuisen.
“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.”
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, founder and president emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom Party said: “On behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party, I extend our deepest condolences on the passing of South Africa’s former President, Mr FW de Klerk”.
Buthelezi added: “This is a painful moment, not only for his family, but for our entire nation. We have lost a champion of democratic principles and constitutionalism who served South Africa long after his retirement from governance.
“I had the privilege of serving in the Government of National Unity with then Deputy President de Klerk as we laid the foundation of South Africa’s democracy.
“I respected his commitment to the wellbeing of our country and recognised in him the characteristics of a patriot.”
“As we honour his contribution to a just society, we mourn his passing. May Mrs Elita de Klerk, his children and grandchildren be comforted in this painful time. We extend our deepest sympathies.”
Aunty Pat also extended her condolences to De Klerk’s family.
The leader of the Good Party Patricia De Lille said: “Our deepest condolences go out to his wife, Elitha and the family on the passing of former President FW de Klerk.
“De Klerk played an important role in our country’s transition from apartheid to a democracy and ensuring a peaceful and reconciliatory process.
“He continued to serve our country after we attained our democracy. May he Rest In Peace.”
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said it was saddened to hear of the passing of De Klerk.
“We send our condolences to his wife Elita and their family,” said the foundation.
“De Klerk will forever be linked to Nelson Mandela in the annals of South African history.”
As head of state, De Klerk oversaw the release of Madiba from prison on 11 February 1990.
They were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize for ushering in a negotiated settlement that led to South Africa holding its first democratic election in 1994.
De Klerk served as deputy president of South Africa in Madiba’s government of national unity.
“Over the years we worked productively with him and the De Klerk Foundation on a number of projects,” said the foundation.
Speaking at De Klerk’s 70th birthday celebrations, Madiba said: “You and I have had our differences, some of them very public. Our basic respect for one another has, however, never diminished.
“And it was that respect for the other irrespective of all differences that made it possible for us, and our organisations, to work together and to negotiate that historic compromise that the world marvelled at.
“If we two old, or ageing, men have any lessons for our country and for the world, it is that solutions to conflicts can only be found if adversaries are fundamentally prepared to accept the integrity of one another.”
The foundation said De Klerk’s legacy was a big one.
“It is also an uneven one, something South Africans are called to reckon with in this moment,” said the foundation.
The Afrikanerbond said it heard with sadness of the death of De Klerk, “a valued member, statesman, man of Africa, South African — but above all, a remarkable Afrikaner”.
The Afrikanerbond reminisced about De Klerk’s epochal speech of 2 February 1990, which irrevocably placed South Africa on a different route.
De Klerk said: “The agenda is open and the overall aims to which we are aspiring should be acceptable to all reasonable South Africans.
“Among other things, those aims include a new, democratic constitution; universal franchise; no domination; equality before an independent judiciary; the protection of minorities as well as of individual rights.”
The stated goals also included freedom of religion; a sound economy based on proven economic principles and private enterprise; dynamic programmes directed at better education, health services, housing and social conditions for all.
The Afrikanerbond said with this act of faith, De Klerk became one of the chief architects of South Africa’s constitutional democracy.
“During his presidency of just under five years (1989—1994), he played a crucial role in unravelling the South African racial conflict, pulling the country from the abyss of destruction,” said the Afrikanerbond.
“Our sincere sympathy to his family and friends. This is the end of an era. We honour his memory.”
Leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters Julius Malema was not complimentary about De Klerk at all.
Malema said De Klerk was an “apartheid apologist” who refused to acknowledge that apartheid was a crime against humanity.
Malema’s EFF later issued a statement saying, “it notes the death of De Klerk, the last apartheid president who presided over a murderous and inhumane regime of terror against African people”.
There have been unconfirmed reports that De Klerk would be given a state funeral.
On that matter, the EFF said: “De Klerk, who denied that the legislated separate development, exploitation, torture and murder of black people was a crime against humanity, dies with no honour, and with the dark cloud of having maimed and traumatised families across our nation.
“To honour De Klerk with a State Funeral would be to spit in the face of gallant liberation heroes who suffered in his hands, and had their children murdered in his quest to stifle the freedom of black people,” warned the EFF.
“A state funeral for F.W De Klerk would be an insult to the families of the Cradock Four, it would undermine the memory of the people of Boipatong, Mthatha, Bhisho, the people of Vosloorus and many communities who were maimed by his state-sponsored black on black violence.
“The EFF will oppose through public protest and by all means necessary, a state funeral for a man who died without ever accounting for the blood on his hands. It cannot be the democracy that he killed so many to prevent, that honours F.W De Klerk.
“De Klerk died denying the humanity of the black people that Apartheid subjugated and murdered, and was on a desperate mission to cleanse a legacy of genocide.
“A democratic society must never partake in assisting him to build a false legacy, which will erase the dead bodies his life is marked by.”