F.W. (Frederik Willem) de Klerk

foto F.W. (Frederik Willem) de Klerk vergrootglas

Frederik Willem de Klerk (1936) was president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994. During his presidency the system of apartheid was dismantled. F.W. de Klerk led, in close cooperation with Nelson Mandela, the transition towards the first truly democratic elections held in South Africa in 1994. For their efforts they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

After retiring from active politics in 1996 F.W. de Klerk is still active in promoting peace, democratic values and sound leadership. F.W. De Klerk comes from a family that has been engaged in politics and public office for generations. Prior to assuming leadership of the Nasionale Party and the presidency in 1989 F.W. de Klerk served as minister in several posts, and held a seat in the South African lower house of parliament, the Volksraad since 1972. During that time F.W. de Klerk had built a reputation for being a conservative. F.W. De Klerk has his share of critics, but even his critics admit that he has earned his place in the history of South Africa.


Personal data

Name and surname

Frederik Willem de Klerk

Date of birth

18th of March, 1936

Place of birth

Johannesburg, Union of South-Africa


Johannes de Klerk (father, high ranking politician in the Nasionale Party)

Hendrina Cornelia Coetzer (mother)

Marike Willemse-De Klerk (former spouse, divorced 1998)

Elita De Klerk (current spouse)

Jan de Klerk (son)

Willem de Klerk (son)

Susan de Klerk (daughter)


Reformed Church

Selected honours and distinctions

UNESCO Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize, 1991 (together with Nelson Mandela)

Prince of Asturias Award, 1992 (together with Nelson Mandela)

Nobel Peace Prize, 1993 (together with Nelson Mandela)



Secondary school

Monument High School, Krugersdorp


Law, Potchefstroom University, graduated 1958 (attained his LL.B cum laude)


Political affiliation

Nasionale Party, up to 1997

New National Party, 1997 to 2004

Party-political functions

  • leader Nasionale Party, Transvaal province, 1982
  • chairman Minister's Council in the Volksraad, 1985
  • leader Nasionale Party, 1989 to 1997



  • lawyer and head of firm, Vereeniging
  • elected representative of the Nasionale Party to the Volksraad (lower house of Parliament) on behalf of the municipality of Vereeniging, 1972 (remained member of the Volksraad until 1989 when he became State President of South Africa)
  • minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Social Welfare and Pensions, 1978
  • minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Sports and Recreation, 1978 to 1979
  • minister of Mines, Energy and Environmental Planning, 1979 to 1980
  • minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs, 1980 to 1982
  • minister of Internal Affairs, 1982 to 1985
  • minister of National Education and Planning, 1984 to 1989
  • state president, 20th of September 1989 to the 9th of May 1994
  • executive deputy president, 10th of May 1994 to the 30th of June 1996

Note that in 1972 he declined the offer for a professorship of administrative law at Potchefstroom because he had been elected to the Volksraad at the time.

Selected honoraries and functions (current)

  • founder and chairman, F.W. de Klerk Foundation
  • founder and chairman, Global Leadership Foundation
  • honorary chairman, Prague Society for International Cooperation
  • honorary member, Club of Rome
  • honorary patron, University Philosophical Society (Trinity College, Ireland)


Selected political achievements

  • As minister for energy he successfully pursued the policies that allowed South Africa to manage the supply of oil during the oil boycott instituted by an increasing number of countries.
  • Abolishing discriminatory rules on electoral rights and the right to parliamentary representation, resulting in the effective dismantling of apartheid. Some of the most important decisions in the process leading up to this point were repealing the ban on the ANC, releasing Mandela and other political prisoners from prison, issuing a referendum on the continuation of negotiations to reform the political system (while only white people were allowed to vote).
  • His government dismantled South Africa's nuclear arsenal.


Selected references and statements

Books and publications

  • "F. W. de Klerk: The Man in His Time" (book by his brother, 1991)
  • "Chained together: Mandela, De Klerk, and the struggle to remake South Africa" (book, 1993)
  • "Frederik Willem de Klerk: a conservative revolutionary" (UNESCO publication, 1995)
  • "Tomorrow Is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Road to Change" (book, 1996)
  • "Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of the New South Africa" (book, 1997)
  • "The Last Trek. A New Beginning" (autobiography, 1999)

Features in many of the books on the life of Mandela.

In interviews and speeches

  • Has defended his support for apartheid politics in his earlier career by stating that at the time the system of ethnic segregation and partitioning seemed promising and by stressing the funds the apartheid government made available for black people. With the benefit of hindsight F.W. de Klerk acknowledges the system of apartheid failed on many accounts, and that change was necessary to bring about a just society.
  • Has, on several occasions, stated he felt optimistic about developments in South Africa since he left office and retired from active politics. F.W. de Klerk noted that, despite problems his country faces, the general economic outlook is positive and that the country is stable.
  • Has criticised the composition of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for being too one-sided, though he values most of the work they have done.

Political comments

  • Rumoured and later confirmed to have a strained relationship with president Botha during the eighties. When then president Botha suffered a mild stroke and F.W. de Klerk was elected party leader, it is said the latter blocked the return of the former through political manoeuvring.
  • Elected as party leader as frontrunner of the 'verligte' movement (moderates) in the Nasionale Party in 1989, despite his reputation for being a conservative.
  • Has repeatedly faced allegations he would have had extensive knowledge of brutal actions executed by police and security forces, or the degree of control had exercised over their actions during his tenure of minister of the interior and his presidency. F.W. de Klerk is seen to be defensive on the issue. He has distanced himself from any excesses perpetrated at the time.
  • Some have suggested F.W. de Klerk has been consistently critical of ANC rhetoric, especially during the time he and the ANC were negotiating reforms in the early nineties. They also note he has been critical of Mandela on several issues, most notably of Mandela's critique of the government he led. Most of F.W. de Klerks (later) comments on Mandela, however, are abundant with praise.
  • Many commentator at the time wondered what prompted F.W. de Klerks' decision to push for abolition of apartheid, and some still do. It is, however, generally acknowledged he played a pivotal role in the political process that ended apartheid.