FW de Klerk, the last white man to lead South Africa, has apologized over whether or not apartheid was a “crime against humanity” statement, but the it has revealed old wounds of blacks in South Africa
Mr De Klerk’s apology was an attempt to calm a fortnight of increasingly furious debate after he made comments that many interpreted as an attempt to rewrite history and play down the seriousness of apartheid.
In a statement issued through the De Klerk Foundation, the 83-year-old expressed regret for “the confusion, anger, and hurt” his remarks might have caused.
Two weeks ago, in an interview with the national broadcaster, SABC, the former president said he was “not fully agreeing” with the presenter who asked him to confirm that apartheid, the legalised discrimination against non-white people, was a crime against humanity.
Mr De Klerk went on to acknowledge that it was a crime, and to apologise profusely for his role in it, but he insisted that apartheid was responsible for relatively few deaths and that it should not be put in the same category of “genocide” or “crimes against humanity”.
At first, South Africa seemed to shrug. Mr De Klerk, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela after helping to negotiate an end to apartheid, is a peripheral figure in the country these days, and his potentially polarizing comments seem to pass unnoticed.
But that changed last Thursday when, as a former head of state, he attended parliament for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s annual State of the Nation address.
Members of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party interrupted the president and demanded that Mr De Klerk be removed from the chamber.
“We have a murderer in the House,” said EFF leader Julius Malema. He said that Mr De Klerk was an “apartheid apologist… with blood on his hands”.
An hour-and-a-half later, President Ramaphosa was finally able to begin his speech, and the EFF’s aggressive delaying tactics were widely condemned – by the governing ANC and other opposition parties – as an outrageous, shameful stunt.