Former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate FW de Klerk has died at 85, the presidency said on Wednesday.
The news was confirmed on Twitter by First Lady Gabriela McCarty, who was accompanied by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“In passing on, former President FW de Klerk joins the ranks of South Africa’s outstanding leaders,” she wrote.
Despite having fought alongside President Nelson Mandela to negotiate the end of apartheid in 1994, Mr. de Klerk was not immediately respected by many for his moderate views. He took office two years after Mr. Mandela’s release from prison, and was charged with murder by the new government for failing to prevent or take preventative action against black township black insurrections.
Mr. de Klerk was eventually acquitted. But his steely determination to confront apartheid and his willingness to overcome the legacy of one of South Africa’s most notorious criminals set him apart from his successor. When Mandela, himself, announced his intention to run for president in 1992, de Klerk balked, saying “as a Christian, and as someone who knows what it is to suffer injustice under dictatorship, I could not join the race.” But he was forced to reverse his stance after he was forced into coalition government with the ANC.
In 1990, de Klerk became one of three men who jointly took the Nobel Peace Prize. The other two, Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, had been dramatically jailed for life in 1961. Mandela, who was hailed as a hero by the international community and the ANC, later gave de Klerk the award.
In a 2016 interview with Elle, de Klerk lamented the way he was perceived at the time, saying “If only everyone had listened to me.”
“A lot of people wanted to hate me — the white people hated me — the ANC hated me, the whole Afrikaner community thought I was a racist because I refused to condemn the ANC,” he said. “And I said, OK, no, they did the wrong thing but I can’t condemn them.”