South Africa: Ex-South African President De Klerk Withdraws Apartheid Comments After Backlash

Former South African president FW De Klerk, second from left, and his wife Elita, far left, with parliamentary presiding officers before the February 13, 2020 State of the Nation address.
17 February 2020

FW de Klerk said earlier this month that the system of racial separation previously deployed in South Africa was not a crime against humanity. He has now apologized for any "hurt" his words have caused.

Former South African President FW de Klerk on Monday apologized and withdrew a statement he made earlier this month that the country's former system of racial separation was not a crime against humanity.

The United Nations declared it thus in 1973 but the last apartheid-era president sparked outrage during an interview by state broadcaster SABC on February 2, the 30th anniversary of de Klerk's landmark speech announcing the release of Nelson Mandela. The former president said: "The idea that apartheid was a crime against humanity was and remains an agitprop project initiated by the Soviets and their ANC/SACP allies to stigmatize white South Africans by associating them with genuine crimes against humanity."

However, 83-year-old de Klerk's foundation has now retracted the comment and apologized for the "confusion, anger and hurt that it has caused."

Significant role

When de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, it paved the way for the end of the system of racial separation known as apartheid. South Africa's first all-race elections soon followed and Mandela was subsequently voted into power.

De Klerk, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for their role in the country's transition, has frequently courted controversy with his views on apartheid.

Political outrage

Uproar peaked last week when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had to delay his annual State of the Union address after lawmakers from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) staged a protest in parliament, demanding de Klerk be removed from the legislature. The party described him as an "apartheid apologist," an accusation he strongly refuted, pointing to his record in ending white-minority rule.

The EFF were damning in their assessment of de Klerk's apology. The party released a statement saying: "As the EFF, we reject the apology as one that lacks sincerity and relevance, as the individual who was the source of these hateful views remains unrepentant on his comments and avoids accountability by using a foundation which bears his name."

Critics of de Klerk's remarks included the SA Council of Churches, other opposition parties and civil society groups, while the ruling ANC eventually slammed his comments as "blatant whitewash."

A foundation set up by the renowned anti-apartheid activist and fellow Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said it was "irresponsible" to debate the "degree of awfulness of apartheid" and called for de Klerk to retract his remarks.

(AP, AFP)

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