Frederik Willem de Klerk was born in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) on 18 March 1936. F.W. de Klerk grew up in a political family, with both his father and grandfather serving high office. His father, Jan de Klerk, was a Cabinet Minister and the President of the South African Senate. His brother is Dr Willem (Wimpie) de Klerk, a political analyst and one of the founders of the Democratic Party.

After finishing school in Krugersdorp, F.W. de Klerk graduated in 1958 from Potchefstroom University with BA and Ll.B degrees (the latter cum laude). At the same time he was awarded the Abe Bailey scholarship (an all-expenses paid educational tour to the United Kingdom). In 1969 he married Marike Willemse, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

From 1961-1972 de Klerk practiced as an attorney in Vereeniging. During this time, he played an active part in Nationalist Party politics and in local educational affairs. He was offered the chair of Administrative Law at Potchefstroom University, but declined the position when he was elected Member of Parliament for Vereeniging in November 1972.

In 1975 he became information officer of the Transvaal National Party. He held several ministerial positions in the Cabinet of President P.W. Botha, including Minister of Post and Telecommunications and Sport and Recreation (1978-1979); Mines, Energy and Environmental Planning (1979-1980); Mineral and Energy Affairs (1980-1982); Internal Affairs (1982-1985); and National Education and Planning (1984-1989). In 1982 he became the Transvaal leader of the National Party after Dr Andries Treurnicht quit the party. In 1985 he was appointed chairman of the Ministers’ Council in the House of Assembly and in 1986 he became the House’s leader. When P.W. Botha resigned as leader of the National Party in February 1989, he was succeeded by de Klerk. In September he was elected the new State President. He soon announced his policy of reform: he hoped to create a suitable climate for negotiations which would end apartheid and bring about a new Constitutional dispensation for South Africa, based on the principle of one person, one vote.

In December 1989, de Klerk met with the imprisoned leader of the African National Congress (ANC), Nelson Mandela. On 2 February 1990, de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). On 11 February Mandela was released. Negotiations with Mandela and other party leaders were held for the peaceful end of apartheid and transition to democratic rule. In 1993, De Klerk and Mandela were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at reform in South Africa.

After the 1994 elections, de Klerk was appointed the Second Vice President in President Mandela’s cabinet. In 1996, he, together with other National Party members, withdrew from their cabinet posts in order to establish the National Party as an effective opposition to the ANC. In 1997 Frederik Willem de Klerk retired from politics.

He testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on behalf of the National Party in August 1996 and May 1997, where his apology for apartheid was criticised as insufficient. In 2012, he defended aspects of apartheid during an interview with CNN television and in 2020 he refused to concede that the system was a crime against humanity.

Former President Frederik Willem de Klerk passed away on 11 November 2021 in Fresnaye, Cape Town, Western Cape. 

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