8 February 1999

South Africa: FW de Klerk Reveals Colourful Ancestry

Cape Town — A few years ago, Diana of Bengal might have been FW de Klerk's dark secret. Today, her presence in the former State President's lineage is a matter-of-fact footnote in the Huguenot De Clercq family history and an instance of the liberation of its most famous son.

Diana of Bengal, it emerges from Mr. De Klerk's autobiography, was an Indian slave whose grand-daughter married Mr. De Klerk's ancestor, Barend de Klerk, in 1737.

In his book, The Last Trek - A New Beginning, Mr. De Klerk writes: "This was part of my genealogy of which we did not speak - and of which I did not know - when I was a child."

He also notes that Hendrik Bibault, half-brother of Diana's daughter Susanna, was the first settler to call himself an Afrikaner. He recounts an incident in which Bibault, confronted by Dutch soldiers, shouted: "Ik ben een Afrikaander." ("I am an African.")

This "seminal moment in the history of South Africa", as Mr. De Klerk describes it, is echoed in his interview with the Cape Argus on page 13 today, in which he makes it plain that his ancestor's dalliance across the colour line - once outlawed by his own party - "does not make a difference at all".

He had "specifically highlighted" this historical footnote on remembering a debate in the old white parliament in which former Conservative Party leader Andries Treurnicht had been "extremely upset" at someone pointing out that his own lineage included people of colour. "To me, it does not make a difference at all."

The study that revealed Susanna's existence was done by the writer W A de Klerk and given to him at the time of the Huguenot anniversary in 1988.

"That's how I got to know about it. I am not a roots man. My roots are here, really. And I am here to stay."

The matter of his own controversial love affair - and subsequent marriage - with Elita Georgiadis, is also candidly dealt with in his book. He speaks of "stresses and strains" in his marriage to Marike since the mid-1980s.

"The fact is that they were there, and that I met and fell in love with Elita Georgiadis."

He describes the growing attraction between them after their first meeting in 1989 in London and says that, despite his attempts to suppress his emotions, "for once in my life, my heart took control".

Both realised they had reached "a crossroads" in July 1994 but after a discussion with Elita's husband, Tony, they decided to end the relationship and repair their marriages. "In the end," Mr. De Klerk admits, "we failed: what had grown between us was too strong." He initiated the resumption of the relationship towards the end of 1996.

Mr. De Klerk recalls having to grapple with "powerful religious, political, moral and personal arguments" advanced by "friends in the church" who wanted him to "take a stand akin to the political stand I had taken on February 2, 1990".

In the end, he had to choose between "moving forward on the basis of the truth of my love for Elita, or backward to living a lie behind a facade of conventional respectability".

In his wide-ranging interview with the Cape Argus, Mr. de Klerk: Speaks highly of Thabo Mbeki's skills as a "sound administrator" but says the ANC will miss Nelson Mandela's skills as an "astute party politician".

* Predicts a political realignment, starting within the ANC, in the next five years.

* Acknowledges the source of the bitterness he often encountered in Mr. Mandela, but says it is "remarkable how he has risen above it".

* Expresses his determination to find ways to encourage civil society to do more to counter disillusionment and recapture the spirit of goodwill that prevailed after the first elections.

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