Among the many awards FW de Klerk received was one for political courage. It was probably the most appropriate of them all, and one that few political leaders deserve.
Mr de Klerk was not the first Afrikaner and National Party (NP) leader to embark upon the dismantling of the apartheid system. John Vorster started the process in 1967 when he announced that a New Zealand rugby team touring South Africa could include Maoris. He later started to liberalise labour law. His successor, PW Botha, conceded trade-union rights to black African workers in 1979 and repealed the pass laws in 1986.
This process of liberalisation was, however, accompanied by repressive measures, among them longer periods of detention without trial, torture and deaths in detention, and the bannings of more black political organisations, as well as newspapers. Two or three million people were forcibly removed from the supposedly “white” part of the country into the ten black “homelands”. Millions of black Africans lost their South African citizenship as four of the ten homelands became constitutionally separate.
But in the mid-1980s Mr Botha recognised that this policy of political segregation, forced removal, and citizenship deprivation had come to the end of the road. Black Africans had somehow to be incorporated into the same political institutions as the white, coloured, and Asian/Indian minorities.
This necessitated negotiation. The most powerful black leader within the country was Mangosuthu Buthelezi, but he had always refused to enter any national constitutional talks unless banned organisations and imprisoned leaders had the same opportunity. So Mr Botha opened secret talks with Nelson Mandela.
The next logical step in this process had to be political liberalisation. Decades of repressive policies had to be reversed. Lifting bans and freeing political prisoners meant liberating organisations and people long committed to the use of revolutionary violence, many of them communists or heavily under communist influence.