How Racism and Apartheid Was Dismantled in South Africa
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How Racism and Apartheid Was Dismantled in South Africa

Nelson Mandela is widely credited with the dismantling of apartheid and of racist policies, and the reconstruction of South Africa. Whilst this is true, he could not have achieved success without the intervention of F.W. de Klerk, the last Nationalist President of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela has received world-wide acclaim for his leadership and statesmanship as the first fully-democratically elected President of South Africa. He continues to be loved and held in awe by people around the world, as he ages gracefully in his home in Houghton, Johannesburg. He is widely credited with the maintenance of law and order in South Africa during the heady years following his release from prison, and following the un-banning of the black consciousness movement, the ANC. Yet none of these events would have taken place, and none of the successes enjoyed by Nelson Mandela, and the ANC, and by the newly democratic South Africa, would have been possible without the courage and daring of the man who dismantled apartheid in South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk. Frederik de Klerk, or FW as he was known to his political colleagues, and to the people of South Africa, was the Executive State President of South Africa for the period September 1989 to May 1994. He was also the leader of the ruling National Party in the country, and as such, was the most powerful man in the country. FW de Klerk succeeded the previous State President, PW Botha, in a bold bid to become the State President, after Botha suffered a stroke in August 1989. By all accounts, de Klerk acted swiftly to avoid a political void, and within a few days he was declared Acting State President following the resignation of P.W.Botha. He was sworn in as State President in September of the same year, following the last general election that excluded the black majority of the country. De Klerk, who had become the Leader of the National Party in February 1989, 6 months prior to the stroke suffered by P.W. Botha, whilst a staunch Nationalist, had declared himself to be one of the “verligte” (enlightened) members within the party, and favoured negotiation and discussion, and a move towards an integrated South Africa. The country at the time was the pariah state in the world, and was subject to widespread and potentially damaging sanctions, and was under increasing pressure internationally, and from terrorist attacks by the military wings of many black political movements, which were allowed to operate with impunity from neighbouring African states. Whilst P.W. Botha, a “verkrampte” (conservative) member of the National Party, and his allies, favoured a tough-it-out approach, and had managed for many years to keep the country running through innovative self-help initiatives, and a plethora of sanctions-busting schemes funded by the government, De Klerk could see little future for South Africa in the long term. Immediately following his inauguration as State President in September 1989. Frederik de Klerk announced to the world that he intended to work to create a non-racist South Africa, to lift the ban on the ANC and other banned political parties, and to release Nelson Mandela from prison. He was as good as his word, and in a series of acts and decrees, he ended apartheid in the country, and opened the way for a free and democratic South Africa in which all would be enfranchised, and there would be full integration of races. Nelson Mandela was released amidst great celebrations, and for the first time since the colonisation of the country by Great Britain, the black majority of the country experienced emancipation from personal and political suppression. South Africa moved into a phase of discussion and negotiation between the Nationalist government, and the ANC, Inkhatha Freedom Party, et al. New individuals emerged as the leaders on both sides of the negotiating table, and tough, and sometimes heated negotiations continued as both sides sought to draw up a draft constitution. Quietly guiding the process according to a time-table that he had agreed with Nelson Mandela, prior to his release, was FW de Klerk. He was still the State President of the country, and he continued to govern. In 1993 he called a halt to South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons programme that had been put in place by a beleaguered government as a military deterrent, in 1961. All weapons and enriched weapons-grade uranium, were dismantled and destroyed. In 1994, the first general election of a fully democratic South Africa took place, and Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as State President. In terms of prior agreements, De Klerk was appointed as Mandela’s Deputy, a post that he relinquished in 1996, at which time he retired from politics. Developments within the country have continued apace since this time. De Klerk has retired from political life, but remains active as Chairman of the F.W. de Klerk Foundation, and of the Global Leadership Foundation that he formed on his retirement. In passing the reins of ruling South Africa to Nelson Mandela, Frederik de Klerk did not risk the safety and future of the country. He had a vision of a free society, and against the wishes of the hard-line Nationalists in his government, he pursued his vision. His leadership style was one of consultation and agreement by consensus, but despite this, his decisions and actions were bold and courageous, and he deserves credit and accolades for dismantling apartheid in South Africa.

This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

Frederik de Klerk at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos in January 1992

Copyright World Economic Forum (

Date January 1992(1992-01)

Source Frederik de Klerk & Nelson Mandela - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 1992

Author Copyright World Economic Forum (

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Comments (13)

Now that taught me something new. Whilst I've heard of Nelson Mandela, I had no idea that Frederik de Klerk was behind the cogs and wheels that set the end of apartheid in motion.

Excellent and thpughtful article.thanks for posting.voted up

a truly enlightening article. Like Ann, I didn't know some of this, it is good to know :)

Lots of good info on history and on the subject.

I enjoyed this history lesson about South Africa. I learned a lot from it.

Voted up. Excellent

Your excellent detail and great delivery had me completely engrossed in this article. Thank you.

Returning to award you with a well deserved vote up.

Very cool, controversial subject. Nice job.

What happened here? No paragraphs. It is one continuous article. Better check it. System might have been acting up.

Well written..U have handled the topic well.... Thanks for sharing.... Voted up...

You have done an amazing job with this article. Thanks for sharing such an important piece.

A very educational read. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.