F.W. de Klerk, the last leader of white South Africa, who joined with Nelson Mandela to bring an end to apartheid and shared a Nobel Peace Prize for their achievement, was recently interviewed at a summit of Nobel Laureates in Chicago and appeared on Thursday’s Amanpour.
So I’m a Convert
It was noted that Mandela had once called de Klerk “a man of integrity” but had taken it back, regretting that de Klerk had never renounced the principle of apartheid.
De Klerk responded: “Well, let me first say I’m not aware that Mr. Mandela says I’ve never renounced apartheid.” He then said, “I have made the most profound apology in front of the Truth Commission and on other occasions about the injustices which were wrought by apartheid.”
But then he added: “What I haven’t apologized for is the original concept of seeking to bring justice to all South Africans through the concept of nation states (essentially creating two separate states, one black and one white).”
“But in South Africa it failed,” he said. “And by the end of the ‘70’s, we had to realize, and accept and admit to ourselves that it had failed. And that is when fundamental reform started.”
He was then asked if apartheid failed because it was unworkable, or because it was simply morally repugnant.
“There are three reasons it (apartheid) failed,” he said. “It failed because the whites wanted to keep too much land for themselves. It failed because we (whites and blacks) became economically integrated, and it failed because the majority of blacks said that is not how we want our rights.”
Still, De Klerk would not back off his belief in the validity of the original concept of “separate but equal” nation states.
“There is this picture that apartheid was…used to be compared to Nazism,” said de Klerk.
“It’s wrong, and on that, I don’t apologize for saying that what drove me as a young man, before I decided we need to embrace a new vision, was a quest to bring justice for black South Africans in a way which would not – that’s what I believed then – destroyed the justice to which my people were entitled.”
“That’s how I was brought up,” said de Klerk. “And it was in an era when also in America and elsewhere, and across the continent of Africa, there was still not this realization that we are trampling upon the human rights of people. So I’m a convert.”
Eleven official languages
Again, he was asked if he wanted to take the opportunity to say that apartheid was, in retrospect, morally repugnant.
“I can only say in a qualified way,” said de Klerk. “Inasmuch as it trampled human right, it was – and remains – and that I’ve said also publicly, morally reprehensible.” He added, “But the concept of giving as the Czechs have it and the Slovaks have it, of saying that ethnic unities with one culture, with one language, can be happy and can fulfill their democratic aspirations in an own state, that is not repugnant.”
“With the advantage of hindsight,” said de Klerk, “we should have started the reform much earlier…But the intention was to end at a point which would ensure justice for all. And the tipping point in my mind was when I realized… we need to abandon the concept of separateness. And we need to build a new nation with its eleven official languages, accommodating its diversity, but taking hands and moving forward together.”
We call each other on birthdays
Mandela, will turn ninety in July and de Klerk was asked if they were friends.
“Actually, we’re close friends,” said de Klerk. “Not the closest in the sense that we see each other once a week. Also, we live apart. But he’s been in my home as a guest; I’ve been in his home as a guest. When I go to Johannesburg, my wife and I have had tea with him and Graca, his wife.”
“We call each other on birthdays,” he said. “There is no animosity left between us.” But then he added: “Historically, there was.”