FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid leader who freed Nelson Mandela, dies at 85

CNN  — 

FW de Klerk, the last leader of apartheid-era South Africa who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela after working to end racial segregation in the country, has died at 85, his foundation said on Thursday.

De Klerk released Mandela, his subsequent successor, from prison and laboriously negotiated with him a transition to democracy, ending a decades-long segregationist system that kept South Africa’s White minority in power over the Black majority for generations.

The two men shared the peace prize in 1993 for their work to end the policy, but de Klerk – who had served in governments that upheld apartheid, and who after his retirement appeared reluctant to condemn it unequivocally – remained a divisive figure in South Africa long after he left politics.

De Klerk died at his home in Fresnaye from mesothelioma cancer, the FW de Klerk Foundation said Thursday.

A deeply conservative politician whose party had long supported apartheid, de Klerk surprised his political clan and became an unlikely agent of change in South Africa during his five-year rule of the country.

He effectively announced the beginnings of a new country in one historic speech at the state opening of Parliament in 1990, revealing to a stunned nation that he would free Mandela, legalize anti-apartheid groups, end a national state of emergency and negotiate to end racial inequality in the country.

De Klerk’s political transformation, sparked by worsening racial tensions and the impending possibility of civil war, led him to be cast as a “traitor” by some conservative lawmakers.