South Africa’s Last Apartheid President FW de Klerk Dies at 85

South Africa's former president Willem de Klerk arrives at news conference ahead of the 13th World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in Warsaw

Former president of South Africa and the last white person to lead the country, FW de Klerk has died at the age of 85.

de Klerk who was strategic to the nation’s transition to democracy had been diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. He was head of state between September 1989 and May 1994.

In 1990 he announced he was releasing anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, leading to multi-party polls in 1994.

A statement from the former president’s FW de Klerk Foundation on Thursday morning read: “Former President FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye (Cape Town) earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer.” 

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Born into a family of Afrikaners, a white ethnic group descended mainly from Dutch colonisers, de Klerk’s father was a leading apartheid senator who served briefly as interim president.

He studied law, before being elected to parliament as a member of the National Party that instituted apartheid.

De Klerk held several ministerial positions before he became president in 1989, a position he held until he handed over to Mandela after the first democratic elections in 1994.

De Klerk and Mandela had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their often-tense cooperation in moving South Africa away from institutionalised racism and toward democracy. He is survived by his wife Elita, children Jan and Susan, and grandchildren.

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