We've got news for you.

Register on DispatchLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Ramaphosa, political leaders send condolences to FW De Klerk’s family

Former president FW De Klerk died on Thursday at the age of 85. File photo.
Former president FW De Klerk died on Thursday at the age of 85. File photo.
Image: Supplied

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday paid tribute to former president FW de Klerk, saying he played a “vital role in our transition to democracy”.

“We are saddened that FW De Klerk has passed away,” Ramaphosa told journalists who had gathered outside the National Assembly for finance minister Enoch Godongwana’s medium-term budget policy statement.

Ramaphosa said he was informed by De Klerk’s widow Elita on Thursday morning that the last apartheid president had died.

“He was 85 ... and had not been well for while,” he said. “It saddens us because he did play a key role in ushering in democracy in our country. He was a leader of a party that was largely discredited in relation to the role that the National Party played in enforcing apartheid, but he had the courage to step away from the path that his party that he led had embarked upon from 1948 and we will remember him for that.”

Ramaphosa said the policies that the apartheid regime espoused and implemented had wreaked a lot of havoc on millions of South Africans, and that many people would never forget and had suffered from.

“But as a human being, it’s important to us as South Africans to pay our condolences and to allow him to go and rest because he was not well towards the end.

“And it is in this regard that our hearts are with the De Klerk family, Mrs Elita de Klerk, and I’d like to say we will wait for the FW De Klerk Foundation to tell us about the details of his funeral and what they have in mind.

“As government, we stand ready as always to work with the De Klerk family as well as his foundation,” said Ramaphosa.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said his party noted with sadness the passing of De Klerk. He said in a statement that rather than dividing the country, he hoped the passing of De Klerk and his memory would make people even more determined to work towards a united SA.

De Klerk died at home in Cape Town after a battle with cancer.

His decision, within a year of taking over the presidency from PW Botha in 1989, to unban liberation movements, release Nelson Mandela from prison, lift the ban on political marches and begin the negotiation process towards our first democratic election was a watershed moment,” said Steenhuisen.

De Klerk also took the decision to dismantle the country’s nuclear weapons programme. These things were not considered possible under any of his predecessors.

“Importantly, he was also able to bring the majority of white voters along with him, and this played a critical role in ensuring that the transition happened peacefully and that the 1994 elections, as well as the constitutional negotiations, were embraced by all South Africans.

We have lost a champion of democratic principles and constitutionalism who served SA long after his retirement from governance.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi

He said the process of negotiations had required calm heads and responsible leadership on both sides of the table, and it was fitting that both he and Mandela were honoured in 1993 with the shared Nobel Peace Prize.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, who led the Transkei government when De Klerk took over as president in 1989, also conveyed his condolences via a tweet.

My condolences to his family. His role and willingness to engage about SA’s future then saved us from [a] bloodbath. He was definitely not in the same league as PW. May his soul rest in peace,” said Holomisa.

IFP founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi, speaking on behalf of the party, described the news of De Klerk’s passing as a painful moment, not only for his family but for the entire nation.

“We have lost a champion of democratic principles and constitutionalism who served SA long after his retirement from governance,” he said.

Buthelezi served with De Klerk in the government of national unity, where the latter served as deputy to former president Nelson Mandela.

Buthelezi said he was privileged to have worked closely with De Klerk, that the last apartheid president respected his commitment to the wellbeing of the country and Buthelezi recognised in him the characteristics of a patriot.

Buthelezi recalled De Klerk’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in December 1993 as that of a leader who spoke about the fundamental change of heart that became the driving force towards a new dispensation.

The quote that Buthelezi used to emphasise his point was where De Klerk said, “It was not a sudden change but a process — a process of introspection, of soul searching; of repentance; of realisation of the futility of ongoing conflict, of acknowledgment of failed policies and the injustice it brought with it.”

The former IFP leader said De Klerk’s words were not merely a change of his own heart, but a change of the entire country.

Buthelezi praised De Klerk for not failing SA when history provided him with a unique privilege of taking SA across the threshold.

“In announcing the release of Mr Mandela and other political prisoners, and the unbanning of political parties, on February 2 1990, he opened the way for inclusive democratic negotiations. It was the beginning of our shared future.”

Buthelezi was thankful that De Klerk had the opportunity to see SA become a country of freedom in which every citizen has equal rights.

“As we honour his contribution to a just society, we mourn his passing. May Mrs Elita de Klerk, his children and grandchildren be comforted in this painful time,” he added.

Good leader Patricia de Lille said De Klerk continued to serve SA after the attainment of democracy.

“De Klerk played an important role in our country’s transition from apartheid to a democracy and ensuring a peaceful and reconciliatory process,” De Lille said, sending condolences to his wife and the family.