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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 10/98: Truth and Reconciliation  
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Truth and Reconciliation Friday, 30 October, 1998, 08:31 GMT
FW de Klerk: Overseer of transition
Although the forces of history made it seem inevitable, South Africa's transformation into a multiracial democracy might have been more painful without FW de Klerk.

He saw his country had to change and forced the pace.

Mr de Klerk watched the growing chaos from a vantage point inside South Africa's despised white minority government where he appeared to flirt with both sides of his party - the conservatives and the ultra-conservatives.

No-one was really sure where his sympathies lay until he became president in 1989.

From that point on, his approach could not have been more different from that of his predecessor, PW Botha.

Showing his hand

In 1990 he declared his own personal opposition to the racist legislation his own party had been responsible for.

Within a year Mr de Klerk had released Nelson Mandela from prison, aware that the move could well mean his own days in office were numbered.

Talk about a new constitution opened old wounds. There was appalling violence between the African National Congress and its Zulu rivals.

White extremists were also agitated - upset at the prospect of a black government. Mr de Klerk sensed the threat and outmanoeuvred them by offering a "whites only" referendum in 1992, in which he sought backing and won it.

Peace prize winner

The pace of change picked up and in 1993 Mr de Klerk was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with the man who would replace him as president.

Although Mr Mandela was infuriated at times by FW de Klerk, he has described him as a man of integrity.

Mr de Klerk made a personal submission to the commission during its investigations, apologising for the mistakes made under apartheid by his own party.

But just before the commission's final report was due to be made public, he was told it would say he had evaded questions about whether he knew of plans to bomb the offices of organisations supporting the black liberation movement.

He threatened legal action, prompting the commission to pledge to remove the section implicating him, and precipitating a last-minute crisis in its two-year work.

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 ON THIS STORY
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F.W de Klerk denies involvement in human rights violations at the TRC.
BBC News
F.W de Klerk: "I have achieved my purpose."
See also:

28 Oct 98 | Africa
28 Oct 98 | Africa
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