South Africa pays tribute to De Klerk, the last apartheid leader

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South Africa paid an official tribute to FW de Klerk, the country’s penultimate white president who liberated Nelson Mandela and led the country from apartheid to democracy.

After a long fight with cancer, De Klerk died on November 11th at the age of 85. In his honour, the government designated four days of national mourning.

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He was President of South Africa from 1989 to 1994, and is most known for overseeing the country’s transition from white minority rule to the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994.

After releasing Mandela from jail in 1990, De Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize with him in 1993. After his African National Congress party won the 1994 election, Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.

On Sunday morning, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a eulogy in De Klerk’s honour in Cape Town’s Protestant Groote Kerk, one of South Africa’s oldest churches.

“He was frequently misinterpreted because of his over-correctness,” De Klerk’s widow Elita Georgiadis told the crowd of approximately 200 people.

“I’ll never forget this man who enthralled me and made me want to assist him in completing this monumental feat.”

The service, which featured a painting of De Klerk between two candles and a choir draped with white flowers, began with a private liturgy and the national hymn.

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Despite his international prominence, De Klerk polarised views in South Africa, and his death elicited a mixed response.

Critics claim he is inextricably linked to apartheid-era crimes and could have been prosecuted if he had lived longer.

De Klerk was a member of the National Party, which established apartheid’s racial segregation and emancipation of South Africa’s non-white majority in 1948.

A small group of demonstrators outside the church held placards reading “Justice denied” and “Justice for Apartheid Victims,” and were quickly escorted away by police.

Traffic was halted in the vicinity, which was also well guarded.

De Klerk’s image was tainted in his later years by comments made in response to criticism of his inability to issue an official apology for apartheid’s crimes.

He denied apartheid was a crime against humanity in 2020, before reversing and apologising.

De Klerk’s organisation released a posthumous film apologising to South Africa’s non-white inhabitants for “the sorrow, hurt, indignity, and devastation that apartheid has caused.”

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