Ex-South African president de Klerk withdraws apartheid comments after backlash
February 18, 2020 | 10:51 AM
by DW
Supplied photo

Former South African President FW de Klerk on Monday apologized and withdrew a statement he made earlier this month in which he claimed that the country's former system of racial separation, apartheid, was not a crime against humanity.

On February 2, de Klerk said during an interview with South African state broadcaster SABC that "the idea that apartheid was a crime against humanity was and remains an agitprop project initiated by the Soviets and their ANC/SACP allies to stigmatize white South Africans by associating them with genuine crimes against humanity."

However, 83-year-old de Klerk's foundation on Monday retracted the comment and apologized for the "confusion, anger and hurt that it has caused."

Significant role in ending apartheid

The former president made the controversial remarks on the 30th anniversary of his landmark speech announcing the release of iconic anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison, which paved the way for the end of apartheid.

South Africa's first all-race election soon followed, and Mandela was subsequently voted into power.

De Klerk, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize along with Mandela for their role in the country's transition, has frequently courted controversy with his views on apartheid.

Political outrage

Uproar peaked last week when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had to delay his annual State of the Union address after lawmakers from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) staged a protest in parliament, demanding de Klerk be removed from the legislature.

The party described de Klerk as an "apartheid apologist," an accusation he strongly refuted, pointing to his record in ending white-minority rule.

The EFF were damning in their assessment of de Klerk's apology. The party released a statement saying: "As the EFF, we reject the apology as one that lacks sincerity and relevance, as the individual who was the source of these hateful views remains unrepentant on his comments and avoids accountability by using a foundation which bears his name."

A foundation set up by the renowned anti-apartheid activist and fellow Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said it was "irresponsible" to debate the "degree of awfulness of apartheid."

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