Written by Staff Writer by Boulda Dye, CNN
Former South African President FW de Klerk, the last apartheid-era head of state to peacefully guide the country out of white minority rule, has died at 85, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority said.
Born in Soweto, a black township near Johannesburg, on June 3, 1932, De Klerk began his political life as a provincial leader of the ruling National Party from 1959 to 1963. He also served in parliament from 1964 to 1994.
He subsequently became deputy president in the non-racial government that followed the end of apartheid in 1994.
In 1993, he became South Africa’s last white president. He was succeeded by Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island.
CNN reports that in a statement on his Twitter account, former President Barack Obama described De Klerk as a hero.
“Since we can never know what happens in the minds and hearts of others, all we can do is move forward, forward as one nation,” Obama said. “And so we mourn the loss of a friend, FW de Klerk. He was a hero of mine, and all of us who were fortunate enough to know him, know how deeply his ideals and his example have touched our lives.”
‘A part of South Africa’s history’
De Klerk was one of five ANC members to become president in 1994. Since then, there have been various attempts to reform the country’s apartheid constitution, but progress has been difficult.
“I must say that the immediate term of the current executive was not very conducive to reform because there are so many people who think the country must be governed more like a European state,” he told CNN’s Richard Quest in a 2016 interview.
“I find this so troubling. Nobody wants to return to a police state. We had a police state once. No one wanted to return to that.”
According to Time magazine, he was also the first leader in post-apartheid South Africa to utter the word “transformation.”
CNN political editor Clarissa Ward said de Klerk “played a critical role in ending white minority rule, but he was an apostle of caution” as “he opposed a ‘colorblind’ approach in favor of a process of gradual, liberal transformation.”