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FW apologises for apartheid comments

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“It was because of the pressure and the struggles that the people of our country waged to enable Nelson Mandela to be released. It was your victory”

Former president FW de Klerk yesterday apologised for his reluctance to fully accept the classification of apartheid as a crime against humanity and said he concurred with the wording of the UN’s State of Rome, which describes it as such.

The climb-down came amid a furore after his eponymous foundation last Friday likening to “Soviet agitprop” the pressure on De Klerk over recent remarks where he, like in the past, appeared to take issue with the definition of the racial oppression of South Africa’s black majority as crime against humanity.

That statement came a day after the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) disrupted the opening of parliament with a demand that South Africa’s last white president leave the National Assembly, terming him a “murderer” and apartheid apologist.

“I have taken note of the vehement reaction to our response to the EFF’s attack on me at the State of the Nation address on Thursday night,” De Klerk said.

“I agree with the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation that this is not the time to quibble about the degrees of unacceptability of apartheid. It was totally unacceptable. The FW de Klerk Foundation has accordingly decided to withdraw its statement of February 14 unconditionally and apologises for the confusion, anger and hurt that it has caused,” De Klerk said yesterday.

He added that while apartheid was dismantled by 1994, when the Statute of Rome was adopted four years later, it was ranked as a crime against humanity and defined it as “inhumane acts . . . committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”.

“The FW de Klerk Foundation supports this provision,” De Klerk said.

Last Thursday, the EFF eventually beat a retreat while De Klerk remained seated in Parliament for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address.

The ANC condemned the EFF’s attack, with the party’s secretary general Ace Magashule pointing out that he had served as a deputy president in the democratic government that took power in 1994.

But the trouble began some 10 days earlier when De Klerk, in an interview to mark the 30th anniversary of the historic speech in which he announced the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Mandela, also said he did not fully subscribe to the view that apartheid was a crime against humanity.

“I don’t fully agree with that. I’m not justifying apartheid in any way whatsoever. It did (wreak havoc for millions of South Africans, as Dubase put it) and I apologised for that. I profusely apologised for that,” De Klerk told the SABC.

“But there is a difference between calling something a crime. Like genocide is a crime. Apartheid cannot be, for instance, compared with genocide. There was never genocide.”

The remarks were not well received.

On February 11, Ramaphosa in a speech marking the anniversary of Mandela’s first public speech from the balcony of Cape Town’s City Hall, drove home the point that De Klerk did not unban the African National Congress and free its captive leader because he was “kind-hearted”.

“It was because of the pressure and the struggles that the people of our country waged to enable Nelson Mandela to be released. It was your victory,” he said.

De Klerk shared the Nobel peace prize with Mandela in 1993 for their work towards a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy.

Tony Leon, who was South Africa’s official opposition leader from 1999 to 2007 before becoming the country’s ambassador to Argentina, weighed in yyesterday. He said by relativising apartheid De Klerk was casting doubt on the sincerity of his past apologies for the abuses of white minority rule.

“I think FW de Klerk was disgracefully abused by the EFF in Parliament last week. He deserves credit for his 1990 speech, but his foundation has done neither him nor his legacy any good by entering the lists on how apartheid was not a crime against humanity,” Leon said.

Hours before De Klerk issued his apology, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said it had requested an audience with De Klerk’s foundation to find a way forward on the controversy.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation’s CEO Sello Hatang said the comments were not conducive to reconciliation.