FW DE KLERK
Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk was born in Johannesburg on 18 March 1936, the son of Senator Jan De Klerk, a senior Cabinet Minister. His school years were spent mainly in Krugersdorp, where he matriculated at Monument High School.
He attended the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education and graduated In 1958 with BA and LLB degrees (cum laude). During his university years he was actively involved in student affairs.
After finishing his studies Mr De Klerk joined a firm of attorneys in Vereeniging that he helped to develop into one of the leading law firms outside South Africa’s major metropolitan areas. At the same time he played a prominent role in numerous community activities. In 1972 he was offered the Chair of Administrative Law at Potchefstroom University, but had to decline because of his decision to enter active politics.
In November 1972 he was elected as Member of Parliament for Vereeniging. In 1978 and shortly after his 42nd birthday, after only five and a half years as a back bencher, he was appointed to the Cabinet. During the following 11 years he was responsible for the following portfolios consecutively:
• Posts and Telecommunications and Social Welfare and Pensions;
• Sport and Recreation;
• Mining and Environmental Planning;
• Mineral and Energy Affairs;
• Internal Affairs, as well as the Public Service, and
• National Education, (the portfolio that he held when he was elected as State President).
On 1 July 1985 Mr De Klerk became Chairman of the Minister’s Council in the House of Assembly. He became Leader of the House of Assembly on 1 December 1986. On 6 March 1982 he was elected to the key post of Leader of the National Party in the Transvaal. On 2 February 1989, the caucus of the National Party chose him as the national Leader of the Party. On 15 August 1989, after the resignation of President PW Botha, Mr De Klerk became Acting State President, and after the general election of 6 September, was inaugurated as State President on 20 September 1989.
Mr De Klerk served as State President until President Nelson Mandela’s inauguration on 10 May 1994. During this period he initiated and co-managed the inclusive negotiations that led to the dismantling of apartheid and the adoption of South Africa’s first fully democratic constitution in December 1993.
After leading the National Party to the second place in South Africa’s first fully representative general election of 27 April 1994, Mr De Klerk was inaugurated as one of South Africa’s two Executive Deputy Presidents – together with Mr Thabo Mbeki . He served in this capacity until the end of June 1996 when his Party, under his leadership, withdrew from the Government of National Unity.
He was Leader of the Official Opposition until his retirement from active party politics on 9 September 1997.
Mr De Klerk has received numerous national and international honours and honorary doctorates. He was awarded the South African Decoration for Meritorious Service in 1981 and the Order of Mapungubwe in 2002. In 1992, he received the Prix du Courage Internationale (The Prize for Political Courage) and was co-recipient of the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Prize. He was also awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Spain during the same year.
In July 1993, together with Mr Nelson Mandela, Mr De Klerk received the Philadelphia Peace Prize and on 10 December the same year was the corecipient, also with Nelson Mandela, of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In January 1999 Mr De Klerk published his autobiography “The Last Trek – a New Beginning” and the same year established the FW de Klerk Foundation, which is dedicated to upholding the South African Constitution; promotion of peace in multi-communal societies; the preservation of FW de Klerk’s presidential heritage; and the commemoration of South Africa’s constitutional transformation from apartheid to a non-racial constitutional democracy.
In 2004, Mr De Klerk brought together a number of respected former national leaders to join him as founding members of GLF Global Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organisation that discretely assists national leaders who are experiencing transitional challenges. He was also the Honorary Chairman of the Prague Society for International Co-operation in the Czech Republic; a Member of the Assembly of the Parliament of Cultures in Istanbul and was involved with Forum 2000, a think-tank initiated by former President Vaclav Havel and Nobel laureate Eli Wiessel.
In addition, he served as an Honorary Member of the Peres Center for Peace’s International Board of Governors and on the advisory board of the Global Panel in Germany.
During his retirement Mr De Klerk made numerous speeches around the world and actively participated as an elder and respected statesman in international conferences. He was a leading participant in annual world summits of Nobel Peace Laureates.
In 2020 FW de Klerk was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs. After a courageous battle against the disease, he passed away on 11 November 2021.
Up until the time of his death he lived in Fresnaye, Cape Town. He enjoyed reading, the outdoor life and golf as well spending time with his family. FW de Klerk was survived by his beloved wife, Elita; by his son Jan, his daughter Susan and by his grandchildren.
1981 South African Decoration for Meritorious Service
1989 Newsmaker of the Year, Johannesburg Press Club
1989 Newsmaker of the Year, Pretoria Press Club
1990 Newsmaker of the Year, Pretoria Press Club
1991 Man of the Year, Institute of Management Consultants
1991 Marketing Man of the Year, FEDHASA
1991 Houphouet–Boigny Prize for Peace, UNESCO
1992 Prix du Courage Politique Internationale, France
1992 Prince of Asturias Prize, Spain
1993 Philadelphia Liberty Medal
1993 Nobel Peace Prize
1994 Co–recipient with President Nelson Mandela as Newsmaker of the
Year, Johannesburg Press Club
2002 Order of Mapungubwe: Gold
1990 Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy, D.Phil (hc), University of Stellenbosch
1990 Honorary Doctorate in Law, LL.D (hc), University of Potchefstroom
1991 Honorary Doctorate in Law, Bar–Ilan University, Tel–Aviv, Israel
1991 Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan,
Province of China
1994 Honorary Doctorate, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, Belgium
1994 Honorary Fellowship Award of the College of Medicine of South Africa
1995 Honorary Doctorate, LLD University of South Africa
1995 Honorary Doctorate, LLD University of Zululand
2007 Honorary Doctorate of Laws, honoris causa, Salisbury University USA
2014 Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy, University of Haifa, Israel