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Frederik Willem de Klerk
Frederik Willem de Klerk (born March 18, 1936) was the last State President of South Africa, serving from September 1989 to May 1994. The last white to lead the country, he oversaw the end of apartheid. De Klerk was also leader of the National Party (which later became the New National Party) from February 1989 to September 1997.
De Klerk is best known for ending apartheid, South Africa's racial segregation policy, and transforming South Africa into a democracy by allowing the country's black majority to have voting rights. Born in Johannesburg, De Klerk is the son of former Senator Jan de Klerk and a nephew of J.G. Strijdom (Prime Minister from 1954-1958).
After completing high school in Krugersdorp, De Klerk graduated in 1958 from the Potchefstroom University with BA and LL.B. degrees (the latter cum laude). In 1969 he married Marike Willemse, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.
"F.W.", as he became popularly known, was first elected to the South African Parliament in 1969 as the member for Vereeniging, and entered the cabinet in 1978. He became Transvaal provincial National Party leader in 1982. After a long political career and with a very conservative reputation, in 1989 he placed himself at the head of verligte ("enlightened") forces within the governing party, with the result that he was elected head of the National Party in February 1989, and finally State President in September 1989 to replace then president P.W. Botha when the latter was forced to step down after a stroke.
Ending the arpatheid
- Main article: Apartheid.
De Klerk accepted that apartheid could not survive and that concessions would need to be made with, at best, power sharing between black and white people. In his opening address to parliament on 2 February 1990 he legalised the ANC, PAC and Communist Party, ordered the release of manypolitical prisoners, reduced emergency detentions to six months and suspended the death sentence. These actions paved the way for the negotiations which led to the end of Apartheid and white minority rule. On 10 February of that year, de Klerk also announced that Nelson Mandela would be released the next day. The Government and the ANC began talks in May 1990; by June the state of emergency had been lifted and the ANC had agreed to a ceasefire. In 1991 the Acts which restricted land ownership, specified separate living areas and classified people by race were all repealed. South Africa had taken its first real steps towards becoming a multiracial society. De Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their work for the peaceful dismantling of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.
De Klerk's reforms led many pro-apartheid supporters to leave the National Party and join the Conservative Party, which was against many of the reforms. It also provoked a resugence of opposition from the white far-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement. Violence also continued between Inkatha and the ANC fuelled by the revelation that the government had given economic and military aid to Inkatha.
In April 1994 racially inclusive elections were held for the first time ever. De Klerk ran a largely ceremonial and uncompetitive presidential campaign against Mandela, in which Mandela was soundly elected. He went on to serve for two years as deputy president in Nelson Mandela's government, but announced his retirement from politics in August 1997 in order to dissociate the National Party from the policies he had once implemented.
Conservative South African opinion was scandalised by his messy divorce (October 1998) from his wife Marike and prompt re-marriage to Elita Georgiades, but the whole country was shocked by the death (December 2001) of his ex-wife of 38 years, apparently at the hands of a young security guard during the course of a robbery.
In 2004, de Klerk announced that he was quitting the New National Party and seeking a new political home after it was announced that the NNP would merge with the ruling ANC.
The name 'de Klerk' is derived from Le Clerc / De Clercq and is of French Huguenot origin, as is a great number of other Afrikaans surnames, reflecting the large number of French Huguenot refugees who settled in the Cape beginning in the seventeenth century.
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