Government to host state memorial service for FW de Klerk on Sunday

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South Africa's last apartheid-era president, FW de Klerk

A state memorial service will be held for South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, and deputy president in the 1994 government of national unity, FW de Klerk on Sunday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to deliver the eulogy at the Groote Kerk in Cape Town.

Attendance will be limited due to COVID-19 regulations.

The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, NatJOINTS, says it has assessed the state of preparedness of all law enforcement units and is satisfied with the security plans.

There will be numerous road closures around the Groote Kerk in the CBD including one lane of Adderley Street between Parliament and Longmarket Street from Saturday afternoon.

De Klerk died at the age of 85, at his home in Fresnaye last month, after a battle with cancer.

The Groote Kerk is one of the three sister churches within the fold of the Reformed Churches of South Africa. A Systematic Theology Professor at the University of Stellenbosch, Robert Vosloo, says the white Afrikaans Reformed churches of old provided a Biblical justification for apartheid and influenced a moral foundation for the apartheid policy of the National Party.

Vosloo says De Klerk too would have been influenced by the Reformed church he was raised in.

A look at De Klerk during the apartheid years: 

“His formation is very much linked to the reformed theology, the reformed ideas about life, also about the way in which you think about public life. I think in that way one can say it influenced him, others will probably say better from his own tradition, but of course, during the time in the 1980s leading up to his famous speech on the 2nd of February, he was in conversation with members of his church, church leaders and that had an influence on his thinking or at least he felt the need to be in that kind of conversation and to think through his decisions in line with his reformed faith.”

Vosloo says there were however some who publicly spoke out, such as Beyers Naude. But it would be decades before these churches would accept and declare that apartheid was a sin and heresy.

On the day of his passing, the FW de Klerk Foundation released a video of the former president’s last message to the people of South Africa. In it, he apologised unreservedly for apartheid. Some political analysts say De Klerk was among those in the National Party responsible for the implementation of some questionable and controversial apartheid policies. The Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape, Bheki Mngomezulu, says De Klerk squandered the opportunity to set the record straight during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and says the apology in his last message was a little too late.

“Since taking over as the president of the country, he initiated the process of negotiating with the former liberation movements and then subsequently he was responsible for releasing the likes of Nelson Mandela and others. He was also responsible for unbanning the MK, APLA and a couple of theirs, and then not only did he do that he also participated in the negotiation process, CODESA 1 and 2 up to the elections in 1994, and above all, he agreed to be part of the government of national unity when some were saying that whites would work with black people. In this case, he was one of the deputy presidents.”

Historian and Cape Town-based academic, Hermann Giliomee, says his impression of FW De Klerk is one of a frank and straightforward person who didn’t have any hidden motives. He says as a loyalist of the National Party, in the 1980s De Klerk became more convinced that apartheid was not a moral policy. Towards the end, Giliomee had been very critical about the way in which the negotiations for a new constitution for South Africa were concluded. But Giliomee says without the likes of FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, citizens would not be living in peace in South Africa.

“A man with such momentous responsibilities you know that I am fortunate to have never been in such a situation. I would be very loathed to pass a very severe judgment, I think he tried his very best he did what he thought was the right thing to do. He didn’t fully understand his opposition and if someone is to blame for the shortcomings of the settlement then the ANC must carry as much blame for that as he does.”

De Klerk’s family held a private funeral service days after his death, the media was not allowed.

De Klerk’s last message to South Africans:


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