FW de Clerk, the last president of apartheid South Africa, has died at the age of 85. In 2010 Rian Malan wrote the following piece for The Spectator about his part in history.
I almost punched an Englishman the other day. We were sitting in a bar, talking about the 20th anniversary of F.W. de Klerk’s Great Leap Forward of 2 February 1990 — the day he rocked the world by announcing that he was about to unban the revolutionary movements, free Nelson Mandela and turn South Africa into a land of peace and justice. I was explaining why I thought de Klerk’s move was an act of heroism almost unparalleled in the history of humankind, but the Englishman didn’t want to know. ‘De Klerk was a loser,’ he said, ‘a racist battered into submission by sanctions, township violence and global isolation, and then forced to do a decent thing that should have been done decades earlier.’ The corollary was of course that Mandela was a sweet old man who shouldn’t have been locked up at all, and the ANC an army of hymn-singing moderates who just wanted to establish a democracy like Great Britain’s. Like I say, I wanted to moer him, and I’d better explain why.
De Klerk’s February speech changed everything in South Africa forever. In weeks to come, there’s going to be a lot of debate about this — the consequences that were good, those that weren’t, his alleged failures at the negotiating table and so on. There will also be a revival of the old debate about what exactly pushed de Klerk over the edge. Pop psychologists will say he must have had a Damascus Road experience, something that caused him to abandon apartheid and embrace the brotherhood of man, but there is no hint of any such event in de Klerk’s autobiography.