Lecture Presented at Salisbury University:
"Leadership and Making a Difference" -delivered April 9, 2007
Frederick William de Klerk was elected President of South Africa on September 6th, 1989. In his first speech as President, Mr. de Klerk called for a nonracist South Africa and for negotiations about the country's future. Just five months later, Mr. de Klerk announced on worldwide television his dramatic decisions to release Nelson Mandela from prison and to legalize the previously banned African National Congress and Communist Party. Over the course of his presidency, Mr. de Klerk initiated and presided over the inclusive negotiations that led to the dismantling of Apartheid and the adoption of South Africa's first fully democratic constitution in December 1993.
These transformations opened the way for the first fully-representative democratic election in South Africa, allowing citizens of all races a vote, and the election of Nelson Mandela as President. After President Mandela was inaugurated on May 10th, 1994, Mr. de Klerk continued to serve for two years as Deputy President. In this post, he worked with President Mandela in drafting the new constitution, encouraging foreign investment in South Africa, and continuing the peaceful path of political reform. He resigned as deputy president in 1996, and remained in Parliament as head of the National Party until 1997.
Before his ascension to the head of the National Party and his election as President, Mr. de Klerk spent 5½ years in the Parliament and 11 years in the Cabinet. His early career was marked as politically conservative, and he faced some criticism for supporting segregated universities as the Minister of National Education. Even after moving away from segregationist policies, Mr. de Klerk faced allegations of complicity in the violence seeping across South Africa in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Regardless, Mr. de Klerk’s efforts and his partnership with Mr. Mandela led to the end of 46 years of racial exclusion, discrimination, and violence in South Africa.
President de Klerk’s leadership in initiating reform, and his efforts to end Apartheid, earned him, along with Nelson Mandela, the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. That same year, he was named along with Mandela, Yitzak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat as Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.” In 1999, he established The F.W. de Klerk Foundation, dedicated to continuing the success and stability of the new multicultural South African democracy, and is today still an active champion for the causes of national reconciliation and constitutional democracy.