Childhood & Early Life
Frederik Willem de Klerk was born on March 18, 1936, in the Mayfair suburb of Johannesburg, to South African politician Johannes "Jan" de Klerk and Hendrina Cornelia Coetzer. He grew up with his brother, Willem de Klerk, who is 8 years older than him.
After changing seven schools throughout South Africa, de Klerk joined the 'Monument High School,' a boarding school in Krugersdorp, and graduated in 1953.
In 1958, he received bachelor degrees in both arts and law from the 'Potchefstroom University.' While there, de Klerk served as the student newspaper editor, the vice-chair of the student council, a national executive council member of the 'Afrikaanse Studentebond,' and an elite member of ‘Broederbond.’ He also played tennis and hockey.
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F. W. de Klerk worked as an articled clerk at the law firms 'Pelser' in Klerksdorp and 'Mac-Robert' in Pretoria. In 1962, he established his own firm in Vereeniging, Transvaal.
He simultaneously served as the national chairman of the 'Junior Rapportryers' for 2 years and chaired the 'Law Society of Vaal Triangle.' He was also a council member of the local technikon, his church, and the local school board.
In 1972, de Klerk accepted the position of the law faculty chairman at the 'Potchefstroom University.'
The 'National Party' nominated F. W. de Klerk as the ‘House of Assembly’ candidate from Vereeniging, and he won the election in November 1972. He earned prominence for his debating skills.
F. W. de Klerk subsequently became the information officer of the 'Transvaal National Party' and contributed to the establishment of a new 'National Party' youth movement.
During that period, he was associated with several party parliamentary study groups and traveled to Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
By late 1976, he realized that the U.S. society was heavily plagued by racism. In fact, racism was more prominent in the U.S. than in South Africa. This had a profound impact on de Klerk. He had previously served in high positions in two select committees, working for the rights of non-white communities.
In 1975, Prime Minister John Vorster nominated de Klerk for a promotion to the position of deputy minister. Vorster had always favored him and believed him to be a leader of the nation. Unfortunately, the promotion ultimately went to Andries Treurnicht of the 'National Party.'
In April 1978, as the minister of social welfare and pensions, de Klerk freed the sporting control bodies from the government's jurisdiction and made them autonomous. While serving as the minister of post and telecommunications, he helped the sports bodies get their electricity contracts.
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He also served as the minister of mining and legalized the 'Atomic Energy Corporation' and the 'Electricity Supply Commission' (ESCOM). He revoked the 'Mixed Marriages Act' as the minister of the interior.
In 1981, F. W. de Klerk received the 'Decoration for Meritorious Service.' Between 1984 and 1989, he served as an education minister and extended the apartheid system to all racial groups in schools.
F. W. de Klerk then defeated finance minister Barend du Plessis, to succeed P. W. Botha as the 'National Party' leader. He was officiated on February 2, 1989. In that capacity, de Klerk introduced a new South African constitution that granted more rights to non-white racial groups.
De Klerk met British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in London. She urged him to free anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from imprisonment, even though Thatcher was an opponent of the anti-apartheid movement and its demands.
After Botha resigned on August 14, 1989, de Klerk served as the acting state president until September 20. He was then elected for a full 5-year term.
The 'African National Congress' (ANC) leaders were against de Klerk, as they believed that he would be an apartheid supporter, just like his predecessors.
As the president, he made efforts to release several imprisoned elderly anti-apartheid activists. In February 1990, during his first speech before the South African parliament, he announced that he would formalize banned political parties such as the ‘ANC’ and the 'Communist Party of South Africa' and free Nelson Mandela.
In 1990, F. W. de Klerk ordered to end South Africa's nuclear weapons program. This order was implemented fully by 1991.
In 1992, de Klerk received a majority of votes during a whites-only referendum on ending apartheid. However, Mandela never believed in de Klerk's efforts in processing the cause. Mandela thought that de Klerk was secretly permitting violence to stop the negotiations to end the apartheid system.
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In 1993, de Klerk and Mandela jointly received the 'Nobel Peace Prize' for their anti-apartheid efforts. However, people opposed honoring de Klerk in the wake of the massacre of several white families by the 'Azanian People's Liberation Army' (APLA) fighters. De Klerk had confessed that the ‘APLA’ had operated the killings on his orders.
In the 1994 non-racial election, Mandela won representing the ‘ANC,’ while de Klerk's 'National Party' ranked second. For 2 years, he served as the deputy president in Mandela's collated ‘ANC’ administration and the 'Government of National Unity.' De Klerk supported Mandela's liberal economic policies.
F. W. de Klerk made efforts to pardon the previous political crimes committed under the apartheid system and attempted to prevent the 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' from investigating against pro- and anti-apartheid groups.
De Klerk and Mandela shared a strenuous professional relationship, majorly because the former had difficulty accepting a position lower than president. Nevertheless, Mandela eventually grew fond of him.
In 1997, he stepped down as the party's leader and also retired from active politics.
In 1997, de Klerk declined the “Harper Fellowship” offered by 'Yale Law School.' In 2000, he founded and chaired the pro-peace 'FW de Klerk Foundation.' He also established and chaired the 'Global Leadership Foundation' to support democratic leadership.
In 2004, de Klerk left the 'New National Party' after it merged with the ruling ‘ANC.’