Frederik Willem de Klerk was born in 1936 in
Johannesburg, South Africa. He was from a prominent Afrikaaner family, and his father, Senator Ian de Klerk, was a senior Cabinet Minister.
He studied law and for 11 years was a lawyer in the Transvaal. He entered Parliament in 1972 and was appointed to the South African Cabinet in 1978. In February 1989, he became leader of the National Party and in the autumn of that year was unanimously elected President of the Republic.
A particular feature of de Klerk’s presidency was his openness. In sharp contrast to his predecessors, he made frequent television appearances and welcomed the media.
This was a difficult time for South Africa, with apartheid (enforced racial segregation) being widely condemned, and de Klerk gradually gained global respect for his calm negotiations in what was to become a period of important transition towards a non-racial democracy.
The opening of Parliament in February 1990 marked a sea change in South Africa’s history, and de Klerk used the occasion to announce remarkable changes that signalled the end of apartheid. He announced that many illegal organizations, including the African National Congress (ANC), would be unbanned and stunned and delighted people around the world by declaring that the ANC leader Nelson Mandela would be released from prison, where he had been held for 26 years.
In 1993, de Klerk described how he would like to be remembered: ‘I would hope that history will recognise that I, together with all those who supported me, have shown courage, integrity, honesty at the moment of truth in our history. That we took the right turn.’
South Africa’s first ever racially inclusive election was held in April 1994 and on 10 May that year de Klerk became one of two Deputy Presidents in South Africa’s new Government of National Unity under the leadership of President Nelson Mandela.
In May 1996 de Klerk resigned his post, having transformed his country’s political system and succeeded in re-integrating South Africa internationally.
Mr Speaker, Members of Parliament.
The general elections on September the 6th, 1989, placed our country irrevocably on the road of drastic change. Underlying this is the growing realisation by an increasing number of South Africans that only a negotiated understanding among the representative leaders of the entire population is able to ensure lasting peace. The alternative is growing violence, tension and conflict. That is unacceptable and in nobody’s interest. The well-being of all in this country is linked inextricably to the ability of the leaders to come to terms with one another on a new dispensation. No-one can escape this simple truth.
. .. Our country and all its people have been embroiled in conflict, tension and violent struggle for decades. It is time for us to break out of the cycle of violence and break through to peace and reconciliation. The silent majority is yearning for this. The youth deserve it.
With the steps the Government has taken it has proven its good faith and the table is laid for sensible leaders to begin talking about a new dispensation, to reach an understanding by way of dialogue discussion.
‘Our country and all its people have been embroiled in conflict, tension and violent struggle for decades.’
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; 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.
In this connection Mr Nelson Mandela could play an important part. The Government has noted that he has declared himself to be willing to make a constructive contribution to the peaceful political process in South Africa.
I wish to put it plainly that the Government has taken a firm decision to release Mr Mandela unconditionally. I am serious about bringing this matter to finality without delay. The Government will take a decision soon on the date of his release.
Unfortunately, a further short passage of time is unavoidable.
Normally there is a certain passage of time between the decision to release and the actual release because of logistical and administrative requirements. In the case of Mr Mandela there are factors in the way of his immediate release, of which his personal circumstances and safety are not the least. He has not been an ordinary prisoner for quite some time. Because of that, his case requires particular circumspection.
Today’s announcements, in particular, go to the heart of what Black leaders- also Mr Mandela – have been advancing over the years as their reason for having resorted to violence. The allegation has been that the Government did not wish to talk to them and that they were deprived of their right to normal political activity by the prohibition of their organisations.
Without conceding that violence has ever been justified, I wish to say today to those who argued in this manner: the Government wishes to talk to all leaders who seek peace. The unconditional lifting of the prohibition on the said organizations places everybody in a position to pursue politics freely. The justification for violence which was always advanced, no longer exists.
These facts place everybody in South Africa before a fait accompli. On the basis of numerous previous statements there is no longer any reasonable excuse for the continuation of violence. The time for talking has arrived and whoever still makes excuses does not really wish to talk.
‘The time for negotiation has arrived.’
Therefore, I repeat my invitation with greater conviction than ever:
Walk through the open door, take your place at the negotiating table together with the Government and other leaders who have important power bases inside and outside of Parliament.
Henceforth, everybody’s political points of view will be tested against their realism, their workability and their fairness. The time for negotiation has arrived.
Frederik Willem de Klerk was born in 1936 in