Frederik Willem de Klerk was born 18 March 1936 in Johannesburg and obtained a law degree in 1958 from Potchefstroom University. He practiced law until he was elected to Parliament as National Party MP for Vereeniging in 1972.
In 1976, FW de Klerk was appointed Minister in the government of BJ Vorster. In 1978 when PW Botha became Prime Minister, De Klerk was appointed to a succession of ministerial posts. In 1985, he became chairman of the Minister’s Council in the House of Assembly. On December 1, 1986, he became the leader of the House of Assembly.
As Minister of Education his position was to support segregation in universities although advocating equal expenditure on pupils of all races. When he became leader of the Transvaal branch of the National Party he gave no indication of wishing to promote reform. At the time PW Botha was firmly entrenched as State President. Following Botha’s departure due to a mild stroke, De Klerk was somewhat unexpectedly elected to lead the National Party and the country. In 1989 De Klerk was elected State President.
In his first policy speech after becoming State President, De Klerk called for a non-racist South Africa and for negotiations about the country’s future. In February 1990 within three months of becoming the country’s leader, he lifted the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and released Nelson Mandela from custody. Through his decisive action he was instrumental in bringing apartheid to an end and open the way for the drafting of a new constitution for the country based on the principle of one person, one vote. FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
On 27 April 1994 South Africa held its first universal democratic election. De Klerk was appointed as Executive Deputy President in the Government of National Unity under Nelson Mandela. De Klerk retained the leadership of the National Party until it withdrew from the Government of National Unity in 1996. He remained leader of the Opposition until 1997 when he retired from politics. He subsequently established the FW de Klerk Foundation to work for peace in societies that are divided on cultural, ethnic, religious or linguistic lines.
In December 2001, while De Klerk was on a brief visit to Stockholm, his wife Marike was brutally murdered. A security guard was charged and found guilty of the crime which was shown to have no political overtones. The perpetrator received two life sentences.
FW De Klerk continues to make public appearances and speeches in which he strongly supports the positive developments in South Africa since the end of apartheid.