FW de Klerk: South Africa's last apartheid-era president dies aged 85

South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, who oversaw the end of white minority rule in the country and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, has died at the age of 85.

FW de Klerk, who was diagnosed with cancer, died in his Cape Town home, a spokesman for his foundation confirmed this morning.

He was a controversial figure in South Africa, where many blamed him for violence against blacks and anti-apartheid activists during his reign, while some whites viewed his efforts to end apartheid as treason.

It was Mr de Klerk who, in a speech to the South African Parliament on February 2, 1990, announced that Mr Mandela would be released from prison after 27 years.

The announcement electrified a country that for decades had been despised and sanctioned by much of the world for its brutal system of racial discrimination known as apartheid.

Given South Africa’s increasing isolation and the deterioration of its once solid economy, Mr de Klerk – who had been elected president five months earlier – also announced in the same speech that the ban on the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid political groups would be lifted.

Several MPs left the room gasping as he spoke.

Nine days later, Mr. Mandela went free.

Four years later, Mandela was elected the country’s first black president when black South Africans first voted.

At this point in time, Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their often tense collaboration to move South Africa away from institutionalized racism and towards democracy.

In 1997 he retired from active politics.

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