How Nelson Mandela Worked with F.W. de Klerk to End Apartheid

In 1991, two years after he grew to become president of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk, who died on the age of 85, secretly met with Nelson Mandela at Tuynhus, the South African president’s residence in Cape City. Mandela was then prisoner quantity 466/64 at close by Victor Verster jail. Mandela could have been a prisoner, however he was by then essentially the most well-known political prisoner on this planet. De Klerk was a longtime Nationwide Occasion functionary who had succeeded the ferocious P.W. Botha as the pinnacle of the racist apartheid authorities of South Africa.

It was the primary time they’d met, and jail officers had hurriedly ordered a three-piece go well with and tie for Mandela. The assembly was formal, however cordial. The 2 mentioned the way forward for South Africa and Mandela’s attainable launch. De Klerk and the Nationwide Occasion had lately launched a five-year plan that enshrined the thought of “group rights,” a model of conventional apartheid coverage that mentioned whites and blacks would stay separate with neither dominant.. South African Blacks noticed this as a approach of avoiding majority rule.

Mandela didn’t hesitate. He mentioned that was unacceptable.

Mandela recalled all of this to me in 1993 once I was working with him on his autobiography, Lengthy Stroll to Freedom. We mentioned de Klerk many occasions throughout our sixty plus hours of taped interviews, however right here he was describing that first assembly, and doing so with enthusiasm. All of Mandela’s quotes are from the transcripts of these interviews.

“I informed him that I completely rejected that. I referred to an article which was written in Die Burger, which is an Afrikaner newspaper—the mouthpiece of the Nationwide Occasion within the Cape—through which the editor mentioned that the idea of teams rights was conceived as an try to carry apartheid in by the again door. And I mentioned to Mr. de Klerk that if your individual paper says that, then you may think about what we are saying.”

He then paused.

“I used to be then tremendously impressed as a result of he rapid mentioned, ‘Effectively, my purpose right here is not any completely different than yours…In case you don’t need the idea of group rights, I’ll take away it.’”

After which Mandela added, “The results of that assembly was that I used to be in a position to write to our folks to say, ‘I’ve met de Klerk and I believe that he’s the kind of chief we will conclude an settlement with.”

That proved to be an understatement. De Klerk launched Mandela later that 12 months, and after 5 years of tempestuous and troublesome negotiations, Mandela grew to become the primary democratically elected president of South Africa—and de Klerk grew to become the final minority white one.

Mandela’s relationship with de Klerk was difficult. There are those that thought Mandela was too keen to see the great in de Klerk and was typically deceived by him. After I later requested him about that, Mandela was considerate. Sure, he replied, he usually did belief folks, and was typically betrayed by them. After I requested him whether or not de Klerk morally rejected apartheid or was only a “political incrementalist,” he rejected the premise of my query and any psychologizing of his relationship with de Klerk. “If you find yourself negotiating, it’s important to settle for what a person says. He says apartheid has failed; he needs to carry a few non-racial society. We’ve got no motive to doubt that…We should settle for that he does need democratic adjustments.”

For Mandela, the one approach you may inform whether or not to belief somebody is to belief them. And that’s what he did with de Klerk. There have been occasions he felt betrayed, and he as soon as publicly mentioned he regretted calling de Klerk an “honorable man,” however ultimately, they averted a attainable civil battle and achieved a free and democratic South Africa. In 1993, they have been collectively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I met de Klerk twice once I was working with Mandela, after which once more a few years later in New York. Throughout these first two conferences, I couldn’t shake one small element: he smoked all the time, oftentimes lighting a brand new cigarette with the stub of his outdated one. Mandela couldn’t abide smoking, however from his expression, you’d suppose he was respiration the loveliest fragrance on this planet. He by no means mentioned something. I interviewed de Klerk on the Council of International Relations in New York, and once I went in to see him within the holding room fifteen minutes earlier than the interview, the primary query he requested me was, “Can I’ve a cigarette right here?”

There was nothing in de Klerk’s historical past that might lead you to suppose he would change into a reformer. He was born into a really strict sect of the Dutch Reformed Church. His father had been a cupboard member within the first apartheid authorities in 1948. de Klerk had served for a decade with P.W. Botha, whose nickname was “the nice crocodile.” However someplace alongside the road, this dour and lawyerly Afrikaner politician had realized that his white supremacist ideology was on the incorrect facet of historical past. The Berlin Wall had simply come down, and he informed his brother that he puzzled if this was an indication from God. However when he spoke earlier than the nation in 1990 and introduced that he was unbanning the ANC and releasing Mandela, it was an act of profound braveness, which Mandela himself acknowledged.

However on the time, I don’t consider he thought that what he was doing would result in one-man, one-vote black majority rule. I believe he was a little bit like Mikhail Gorbachev, one other Nobel laureate who began a course of that he thought he may management, however ultimately couldn’t.

De Klerk had a particularly troublesome balancing act. He confronted a close to mutiny in his personal celebration, lots of whom thought he was going too far. He had a problem from an more and more well-liked Conservative celebration, which was to his proper. He additionally needed to take care of a violent extremist wing that believed that white militias ought to assault the Black plenty as Afrikaner nationalists had completed within the nineteenth century.

Mandela understood this. He was at all times shrewd concerning the pressures on his adversary. He had his personal left-wing that he needed to fulfill. Mandela wanted de Klerk to remain in energy and he wanted de Klerk to attempt to placate his personal proper wing. When the ANC agreed to droop the armed wrestle in 1990, Mandela informed me, “We wished to assist be sure that his efforts succeed. And his effort would succeed if he was ready to return to the whites and say, ‘Have a look at the fruits of the brand new coverage of negotiations. We’re speaking to the enemy and we have now led to a cessation of hostilities.’”

However it was throughout the orgy of violence within the early ’90s and the emergence of a shadowy so-called “Third Drive,” a violent extremist motion that was trying to tip the nation into civil battle, that Mandela’s relationship with de Klerk virtually ruptured. Mandela recalled going to the scene of a very brutal bloodbath in Sebokeng, the place 30 folks have been killed. Mandela was horrified. He informed me he mentioned to de Klerk that “in any nation when 30 folks have been killed the pinnacle of state would instantly make a press release expressing his sympathy to the subsequent of kin, and calling for the arrest of those folks. Why have you ever not completed so? He simply had no reply in any respect…Mr. de Klerk by no means got here again to me about it.”

In 1994, de Klerk ran towards Mandela in South Africa’s first democratic non-racial election. Mandela and the ANC received greater than 60% of the vote whereas de Klerk and the Nationwide Occasion received a little bit greater than 20%. However it was a unity authorities and de Klerk served as one among Mandela’s deputy presidents. It wasn’t a cheerful partnership, and de Klerk retired from politics in 1997.

In his retirement, he was nothing just like the beloved worldwide determine of Mandela. He had at all times insisted that the idea of apartheid was “an honorable imaginative and prescient of justice” that grew to become corrupted and was poorly applied. However in 1996, he testified earlier than South Africa’s Fact and Reconciliation Fee and apologized for the “ache and struggling” that apartheid had prompted. Ultimately, although, Frederik Willem de Klerk did a lot to undo the wrongs he by no means totally acknowledged.

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