Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 05/06/2023

The FW de Klerk Foundation was officially incorporated as a not-for-profit trust on 6 June 1999.

Former President FW de Klerk and Dave Steward, the former Director-General in the Office of the President, had for some time been considering the establishment of a Foundation that would continue to support the causes for which FW de Klerk had worked during his presidency. These were primarily the defence and advancement of the Constitution, that he had played such a prominent role in negotiating, and the promotion of reconciliation, communication and understanding between South Africa’s diverse communities.

The Foundation began its activities in offices that FW de Klerk had leased on one of the top floors of the Golden Acre in the centre of Cape Town. It held its first board meeting on 19 July 1999 in Cape Town. At that time there were only three board members – FW de Klerk, Dave Steward and Dr Coetzee Bester, a former Member of Parliament and a longtime associate of the former president. At this first board meeting, Dave Steward was appointed as the Executive Director of the new foundation.

The first two or three years of the Foundation’s existence were devoted primarily to raising funds for the new organisation. On 31 May 2000, the Foundation appointed its first employee, Cheryl Snow, as a general secretary and office manager. On 13 February 2002, it launched its first substantive initiative in the form of a “bosberaad” (bush conference) at Shambala, Douw Steyn’s luxurious private game reserve in the Limpopo province. The conference was attended by President Thabo Mbeki, who led a strong delegation of Government ministers, and by representatives of leading civil society organisations. The goal was to discuss transformation and the impact of Government policies on race relations. It was the first of three major meetings that the Foundation arranged between delegations led by President Mbeki and civil society organisations during the following three years.

On 20 May 2003, the Foundation moved to new offices in the Zeezicht building in Tygerberg Office Park, overlooking the northern suburbs of Cape Town and Table Mountain. This acted as the Foundation’s home for the next 18 years.

On 17 October 2006, the Foundation launched the Centre for Constitutional Rights, with Adv Paul Hoffman as its first Director. The Centre’s role was to monitor any developments arising from legislation, court judgements or political developments that might affect the Constitution; to participate in the national debate on constitutional issues by means of articles, speeches and conferences; to make submissions to Parliament on problematic legislation and to assist people in claiming their constitutional rights.

Since then the Foundation has published hundreds of articles and statements on constitutional issues. It has organised dozens of conferences, roundtables and seminars, and has made numerous submissions to Parliament and Chapter Nine institutions on problematic legislation. It publishes an annual report card on the observation of human rights. It has also participated as amicus curiae in court cases relating to the manner in which the Judicial Service Commission should appoint judges; the imposition of demographic representivity of coloured employees of the Department of Correctional Services in the Western Cape; and on the manner in which the South African Human Rights Commission adjudicates hate speech complaints.

The Foundation was one of the first organisations to alert civil society to the dangers and intentions of the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution ideology. It has also actively participated in many campaigns against unconstitutional policies – including the defeat of the first Expropriation Bill in 2008; the Protection of Information Bill; the erosion of Afrikaans at university level; state capture; expropriation without compensation; and more recently, the Hate Speech Bill and the Employment Equity Amendment Bill.

On 2 February 2010, the Foundation held its first annual conference to commemorate the anniversary of FW de Klerk’s 1990 speech that launched the constitutional transformation of South Africa. The following year it instituted The FW de Klerk Goodwill Award, to give recognition to individuals and organisations that have promoted goodwill between South Africans. Over the years recipients have included Pieter-Dirk Uys, Study Trust, Patrice Motsepe, Afrika Tikkun, Thuli Madonsela, the Gift of the Givers and Ladles of Love.

The Foundation has also developed its own outreach programme – mobilising funds from overseas donors – for organisations in South Africa that provide care to disadvantaged and disabled children. Over the years it has channelled almost R5 million to these highly deserving caregivers.

Like many organisations, the Foundation was deeply affected by COVID in 2020 – 22. It suffered a further blow with the passing of FW de Klerk, on 11 November 2021. One of the few positive developments during this period was the Foundation’s decision to purchase its own building – an elegant Edwardian house in the centre of Cape Town – that now serves as its offices and will, in future, house the FW de Klerk Archive and Library, and a permanent multimedia exhibition on the constitutional transformation of South Africa.

Following the passing of its founder and Chairman Emeritus, the Foundation’s board resolved to continue to implement the vision that FW de Klerk had articulated for the Foundation in 1999. It will continue to work for the advancement of the Constitution and the promotion of reconciliation, communication and understanding. In addition, the Foundation has instituted an annual FW de Klerk Memorial Lecture that will be delivered every year on the anniversary of his death.

The Foundation will also establish an archive and library as a repository for documents, correspondence, photographs, videos and memorabilia relating to FW de Klerk’s life and work.

Its most ambitious project will be to curate a multimedia exhibition at its offices in Hatfield Street on the constitutional transformation of South Africa – which it hopes to open within the coming year. The exhibition will tell the story of South Africa’s transition from the conflict, crises and divisions in the 1980s, to the tumultuous negotiations between 1990 and 1994, and the adoption of the new democratic Constitution in 1996. The exhibition will strive to explain to visitors the centrality of the Constitution in preserving and protecting the rights of all South Africans – particularly in the increasingly difficult and uncertain times in which we now live.