F.W. de Klerk was president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994, during which time he worked with Nelson Mandela to successfully end the country’s apartheid system of racial segregation.
F.W. de Klerk was born on March 18, 1936, in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1972, de Klerk was elected to Parliament for the National Party. In 1986, he became leader of the House of Assembly. In 1989, he won election to the South African presidency. In 1991, de Klerk passed legislation that repealed discriminatory laws in the country. Two years later, de Klerk and Nelson Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their anti-apartheid activism. In 1994, South Africa held its first multiracial elections; Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president, and de Klerk became his first deputy.
Early Life and Career
Frederik Willem de Klerk, better known as F.W. de Klerk, was born on March 18, 1936, in Johannesburg, South Africa. After graduating from Potchefstroom University with a law degree in 1958, he started a law firm in Vereeniging, a small town in South Africa's Gauteng province. In 1972, de Klerk was elected to Parliament for the National Party. In 1986, he became leader of the House of Assembly.
South African President
Three years later, in January 1989, South African President P.W. Botha suffered a stroke and, shortly thereafter, resigned as leader of the National Party. De Klerk quickly succeeded Botha, first as head of the National Party and then as president of South Africa (following the September 1989 election), despite Botha's desire to return to the presidency following his recovery.
Early into his presidency, de Klerk worked to establish a new, anti-apartheid constitution based on the principle "one person, one vote." On June 12, 1964, anti-apartheid activist (and future South African president) Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life (27 years) in prison for committing sabotage against South Africa's then-apartheid government. Mandela remained imprisoned for 27 years, becoming a symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle and ultimately strengthening the ongoing apartheid resistance movement in South Africa. The threat of civil war combined with international boycotts and diplomatic pressure against South African led President de Klerk to release Mandela on February 11, 1990, as well as all other important political prisoners.
De Klerk also removed restrictions on political groups, suspended executions and unbanned the African National Congress. (A national liberation movement established in 1912 to unite black citizens and effect social, political and economic change, the ANC was banned by the South African government from 1960 to 1990.)
Establishing an Anti-Apartheid Government
Thereafter, de Klerk focused on ending apartheid and establishing a racially integrated democracy, meeting with several black leaders, including Nelson Mandela, who became president of the ANC in 1991. That same year, following arduous negotiations between black and white leaders, de Klerk passed legislation that repealed discriminatory laws in South Africa.
For their work toward dismantling apartheid, de Klerk and Mandela were named co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The following year, on April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first multiracial elections. On May 10, 1994, a 77-year-old Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa, and de Klerk became his first deputy.