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Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 15:19 GMT

World: Africa

De Klerk's memoirs stir passions

Mr de Klerk's autobiography goes on sale first in the UK

By Greg Barrow in Johannesburg

The autobiography of South Africa's last apartheid president, FW de Klerk - published in Britain on Wednesday - is expected to re-open old wounds between the old white guard and the new African National Congress-led government.

Although Mr de Klerk insists otherwise, the book appears to exacerbate the strains and deep divisions between himself and President Nelson Mandela during the transition to multi-racial democracy.

South Africans have already read extracts from Mr de Klerk's autobiography in national newspapers and can judge for themselves the position the country's last apartheid president will occupy in history.

Whether they go on to buy the book itself, is another matter.

The fact that it is being published first in Britain, says something about the level of interest expected in South Africa as opposed to abroad.

'Reformer' within apartheid regime

Cynical reviewers have already begun suggesting that the autobiography is an elaborate attempt to reinforce Mr de Klerk's view that he should be seen as a reformer within the apartheid regime.

Mr de Klerk claims that, despite serving as a cabinet minister, he was largely oblivious to illegal state-sponsored actions by the security forces against opponents of the white government.

Last year, he succeeded in having allegations that he knew of a government-directed bombing campaign against anti-apartheid activists excised from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In his autobiography, he repeats his deep shock on learning that the South African security forces were involved in brutal underground activity during the apartheid era - this despite widespread coverage of such actions in opposition newspapers at the time.

Mandela-de Klerk divisions

The book also touches on the difficult relations between Mr de Klerk and his successor, President Mandela.

It is no secret that both men endured a troubled relationship.

Few readers will be surprised to learn that Mr de Klerk feels he was the victim of bitter and unfounded political attacks from Mr Mandela.

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