FW de Klerk's remarks taken out of context - Foundation

Former president was explaining his views as a young man, and why he turned away from them


The F W de Klerk Foundation regrets that the comments that F W de Klerk made in his recent interview with Christianne Amanpour of CNN have been taken so unfairly out of context. The question that she asked related to the policies that he had supported when he was a young man - and his reply centered on his view that, though idealistic at the time, they had resulted in the unacceptable injustices of apartheid.

It should be remembered that as a young man De Klerk grew up in an Afrikaner society that was still deeply aggrieved by the loss of the right of Afrikaners to self-determination in the Anglo-Boer War. Their right to self-determination had been internationally recognized by all the leading powers of that time. The central theme of Afrikaner politics when De Klerk was growing up was the burning wish of his people to regain their right to rule themselves. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with this wish.

As a young politician De Klerk supported a solution that would ensure that Afrikaners - and the broader white community - would be able to retain their right to rule themselves in the parts of the country that they had traditionally controlled. They accepted that the other constituent peoples of South Africa should enjoy the same right in the territories that they had always occupied. A great deal of effort and money was invested in the project of developing the ten national homelands and culminated ultimately in four independent states and six self-governing territories.

There is also nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea that the problems of territories that include different peoples should be addressed on the basis of territorial partition. This, after all, is what has happened in such societies all over the world - in the territorial divisions of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and more recently in Sudan. It is the solution that has long been advocated for Israel/Palestine.

However, as De Klerk pointed out, the National Party's application of territorial partition was a complete failure because the territorial division was manifestly unfair (something that De Klerk opposed as a young politician); the economy was becoming increasingly integrated; whites did not comprise a majority in any part of the country; and the policies were vehemently rejected by the great majority of black, coloured and Indian South Africans. Instead of leading to the solution that De Klerk had hoped for as a young man, it resulted in the manifest and unacceptable injustice of apartheid.

When the leadership of the National Party had become aware of the failure of its approach of territorial division it began a process of reform - and then under De Klerk's leadership - of transformation. De Klerk has apologized sincerely for the hardship, injustice and humiliation caused by apartheid. But more than merely uttering words of contrition, he led the process of dismantling apartheid and of opening the way to our present non-racial constitutional democracy. Deep into his retirement he continues to work for the maintenance of South Africa's Constitution and for the realization of its vision.

The Amanpour interview dealt with De Klerk's views as a young man. He tried, as frankly as he could, to explain what motivated him at the time. What motivated him as a young man ceased many years ago to motivate him as a political leader.

Since the mid-eighties he has accepted that the policies that he supported as a young man were wrong and that there was not any possibility of justly settling South Africa's complex problems on the basis of territorial partition. 

Statement issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation, Cape Town, May 11 2012

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