Forum Biography: Frederik Willem de Klerk

Former South African president and Nobel Peace Laureate

Nobel Peace Laureate F.W. de Klerk served as president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 and was instrumental in dismantling the country's century-old system of apartheid, despite steadfast and often violent resistance from South Africa's white leadership and populace.

De Klerk graduated with a law degree from Potchefstroom University in 1958 before practicing law for a number of years in Vereeniging in the Transvaal. During this time he played an active part in Nationalist Party politics and in local educational affairs. In 1972 he was elected to Parliament as National Party member for Vereeniging.

Under Prime Minister P.W. Botha, de Klerk held a succession of ministerial posts including serving as minister of National Education and Planning. When Botha resigned as leader of the National Party in 1989, he was succeeded by de Klerk. de Klerk was also elected State President that year.

Following South Africa's independence from England, an uneasy power-sharing between the English and the Dutch descendents (known as Boers or Afrikaners) ensued in the country until the 1940's, when the Afrikaner National Party gained a strong majority. Strategists in the National Party invented apartheid as a means to cement their control over the economic and social system, through promoting white domination and extending racial separation. With the enactment of apartheid laws in 1948, racial discrimination was institutionalized and race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites and the sanctioning of "white only" jobs. Apartheid was the root of significant internal resistence and violence in the country. A series of popular uprisings and protests were met with the banning of opposition and imprisoning of anti-apartheid leaders, like Nelson Mandela.

In his first speech after assuming party leadership, delivered to the South African Parliament in February 1990, de Klerk called for a non-racist South Africa and for negotiations about the country's future. He advocated a policy of reform, hoping to create a suitable climate for negotiations which would end apartheid and bring about a new constitution for South Africa, based on the principle of one person, one vote.

During his presidency he lifted the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and released Nelson Mandela, who had been imprisoned in 1962 for anti-aparthaid activism. Negotiations with Mandela and other party leaders were held for the peaceful end of apartheid and transition to democratic rule. In 1993 de Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

After the 1994 elections, de Klerk was appointed the Second Vice President in President Mandela's cabinet. In 1996 he and other National Party members withdrew from their cabinet posts in order to establish the National Party as an effective opposition to the ANC. In 1997 de Klerk retired from politics.

In 1999, de Klerk established the F W de Klerk Foundation, which aims to uphold the South African Constitution and the national accord, work for harmonious relations in multicultural societies, and promote the peaceful and negotiated resolution of disputes. In 2004 he also helped found the Global Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organization consisting of former heads-of-state who assist current world leaders to promote peace, democracy and development in countries across the world.

De Klerk holds positions at the Prague Society for International Co-operation, the Assembly of the Parliament of Cultures and the think-tank Forum 2000 as well as serving on the advisory boards of the Peres Centre for Peace in Israel and the Global Panel in Germany. He has been awarded numerous honors, among them the Prix du Courage Internationale and, also together with Nelson Mandela, the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Prize.