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Cape Town (AFP) – South Africa on Sunday paid an official tribute to FW de Klerk, the last president of white rule, who freed Nelson Mandela from prison and brought the country from apartheid to democracy.
De Klerk died on November 11 at the age of 85 from a battle with cancer. Four days of national mourning have been declared in his honor.
He was president from 1989 to 1994 and is best known for leading South Africa’s transition from white minority rule to the first multiracial elections in 1994.
De Klerk also shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993 after he was released from prison in 1990. Mandela went on to become South Africa’s first black president after his party, the African National Congress, won. the 1994 elections.
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a eulogy at Cape Town’s Groote Kerk Protestant Church, one of South Africa’s oldest churches, and called De Klerk “brave” for starting the democratic transition in 1990.
“De Klerk opposed elements of his own state security apparatus and diehards who were ready to take up arms to preserve the status quo,” Ramaphosa said.
“It has often been misunderstood due to its excessive accuracy,” De Klerk’s widow Elita Georgiadis told around 200 attendees.
“I will never forget this man who fascinated me, who made me want to help him accomplish this enormous task that awaits him.”
A private mass and the national anthem preceded the ceremony, which included a portrait of De Klerk between two candles, a choir decorated with white flowers and a performance by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.
Despite a positive reputation abroad, De Klerk divided opinion in South Africa and his death met with mixed reactions.
Critics say he remains inseparable from the crimes of the apartheid era and could have been held responsible for them had he lived longer.
De Klerk represented the National Party, which in 1948 formally brought about the racial segregation of apartheid and the disenfranchisement of South Africa’s non-white majority.
Ramaphosa acknowledged the enduring sense of injustice felt by many South Africans in his speech.
“We can neither ignore nor seek to dismiss the anger, pain and disappointment of those who recall FW de Klerk’s place in the hierarchy of an oppressive state,” he said.
“We must never forget the injustices of the past.”
Outside the church, a small group of protesters held signs reading “Justice Denied” and “Justice for Apartheid Victims” and were quickly taken away by police.
“Ramaphosa shows sympathy for De Klerk, who did not answer for the killings, and he has no respect for the victims,” protester Cassiem Khan told AFP.
“Ramaphosa has time for the murderers, but he has no time for the victims of apartheid and the justice that should be done to them.
The surroundings were closed to traffic and placed under high security.
Comments in his later years have also tarnished De Klerk’s image amid criticism for his inability to formally apologize for apartheid crimes.
In 2020, he denied that apartheid was a crime against humanity before retracting and apologizing.
© 2021 AFP