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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

De Klerk, F(rederik) W(illem)

De Klerk, F(rederik) W(illem) (1936- ), South African politician, President of South Africa (1989-1994), whose reforms led to the end of apartheid, the policy of rigid racial segregation that had been officially enforced by the white-minority government since 1948. De Klerk was born in Johannesburg and gained a law degree from Potchefstroom University in 1958. He was elected to parliament in 1972 for the National Party, and later held a number of Cabinet posts. Following the resignation of P. W. Botha as the country's president in August 1989 because of ill health, de Klerk was elected to the presidency in September. In 1990 he ended the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and other opposition parties. In a further effort to solve South Africa's racial and political problems, de Klerk ordered the release of some political prisoners, including ANC leader Nelson Mandela, who had been in prison since 1962.

Under de Klerk's leadership, the government repealed the last of the laws that formed the legal basis of apartheid in 1992. In March more than two thirds of the voters in a whites-only referendum endorsed his policy of negotiating a new constitution to extend political rights to blacks. After extensive talks between black and white political leaders, the country's first elections in which blacks were allowed to vote were held in 1994. In May, de Klerk conceded electoral victory to Mandela, who became the first black president of South Africa.

De Klerk, however, continued to serve in the government as one of two vice-presidents. In January 1995 he nearly resigned his post following clashes with Mandela; allegations of "dirty tricks" conducted by the South African security services with his knowledge during the 1980s subsequently tarnished his public image. In May 1996 he led his party out of coalition with the ANC, citing differences with Mandela and the need for the National Party to recreate itself and improve its electoral appeal. In testimony given to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in August 1996, he took responsibility for human rights abuses during his presidency, but denied authorizing any specific crimes. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace jointly with Nelson Mandela in 1993. In August 1997 he announced his resignation from politics and stepped down as National Party leader.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.