With the passing of FW de Klerk, the last white president of the abominable apartheid state, we South Africans have once again been forced to reflect on our hideous past. Feelings are divided between those who consider him the hero who dismantled apartheid and released Mandela, and those who think he was a puppet stuck in a corner with no option but to do what he did. At the end of the day, he was the one who uttered these long overdue words in Parliament on 2 February 1990: “The season of violence is over. The time for reconstruction and reconciliation has arrived.”
He then announced that the ban on the ANC, PAC, SACP and a number of other organizations had been lifted. People who were serving prison sentences because they were members of these organisations would be freed. Restrictions on the media reporting on unrest due to the state of emergency were also lifted.
And then he said the words the entire world had been waiting to hear:
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.
Before concluding his speech, he said:
History has thrust upon the leadership of this country the tremendous responsibility to turn our country away from its present direction of conflict and confrontation. Only we, the leaders of our peoples, can do it.
The eyes of responsible governments across the world are focused on us. The hopes of millions of South Africans are centred around us. The future of Southern Africa depends on us. We dare not falter or fail.
This is where we stand: deeply under the impression of our responsibility. Humble in the face of the tremendous challenges ahead. Determined to move forward in faith and with conviction.
Did his actions warrant him deserving to be jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, a man who gave 27 ½ years of his life away to achieve what de Klerk announced in one short speech?
Did he ever during his life repent the fact that there were still unresolved apartheid crimes that took place during his time as a member of the National Party, which many believe left him with blood on his hands?
History will represent him as the man who took the decision to reform the country. But as we all know, if you scratch away at the surface of history, you will find many hidden skeletons.
Who am I to judge the man? After all I never had a family member arrested, tortured, or killed at the hands of the apartheid police force of which FW de Klerk was a part.
He certainly does get a mention in my new book on Lessons from Nelson Mandela and Christo Brand, the prisoner who became president and the prison guard who became his friend. After all, he was a part of our history. Ethan Casey of Blue Ear Books will be publishing the new edition of Christo’s book Doing Life with Mandela in February 2022, and my own book soon after that. Watch this space!
Andrew Russell, Hermanus, South Africa