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F.W. de Klerk (1936–2021), former South African president who won Nobel Peace Prize

by Linnea Crowther

F.W. de Klerk was the last South African president under apartheid, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) for their work ending the nation’s oppressive political system.

The end of apartheid

A controversial world leader, de Klerk was the youngest president in South Africa’s history when he was elected in 1989. A conservative leader, he was not initially expected to bring substantial change to the entrenched system of white-minority rule. But he surprised many when, shortly after he took power, he entered conversations with Mandela – then still a political prisoner – about transitioning out of apartheid. De Klerk released Mandela from prison in 1990, and the two began their work on establishing universal voting rights for all South African citizens. In 1992, de Klerk issued an apology for apartheid. Some were frustrated that the apology did not expressly call apartheid a crime against humanity, but South African leaders including Desmond Tutu publicly praised the apology and encouraged others to accept it. After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, de Klerk was voted out of power in 1994, succeeded in the presidency by Mandela. He served as deputy president for a short period before retiring from politics in 1997.

Notable quote

“Here at the crossroads of our history, we need to turn our backs on the past.” —from a 1992 speech

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Tributes to F.W. de Klerk

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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