South Africa’s last white president Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk, who negotiated a peaceful transfer of power to a Black-led government under Nelson Mandela, died on Thursday aged 85 with cancer, his foundation said.
De Klerk was feted globally for his role in scrapping apartheid and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993. The following year Mandela won South Africa’s first multi-racial elections with his African National Congress (ANC).
But de Klerk’s role in the transition to democracy remains highly contested more than 20 years after the end of apartheid.
Many black people were angered by his failure to curb political violence in the turbulent years leading up to the 1994 multi-racial elections, while right-wing white Afrikaners, who had long ruled the country under de Klerk’s National Party, viewed him as a traitor to their cause of white supremacy.
“Former President FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer,” the FW de Klerk Foundation said in a statement on Thursday morning.
He had been diagnosed in March with mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the tissue lining the lungs.
“He is survived by his wife Elita, his children Jan and Susan and his grandchildren,” the foundation said, adding that the family would in due course make an announcement regarding funeral arrangements.
De Klerk, who had been treated for a lung ailment called pneumothorax in 2018, stirred up anger in 2020 when he told a national broadcaster that he did not believe apartheid was a crime against humanity, as declared by the United Nations.–Reuters