Former South African President FW de Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for his role in ending apartheid, has died at the age of 85.
De Klerk lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday, his spokesman, Thabo Masebe, told The Associated Press.
The former president, who is known for his courage in signing the apartheid law reforms and was the first from the African National Congress (ANC) to do so, served as president from 1994 to 1999 and created the position of first black president, Thabo Mbeki.
De Klerk, a former colleague of Mandela during the British apartheid era, also became president after the ANC won a Nobel Peace Prize.
“I, for one, am filled with respect and admiration for FW de Klerk,” Mandela said in a message, according to a statement released by the South African presidency. “He has shown true compassion and leadership. He has demonstrated the leadership qualities that are needed to build a peaceful and just society.”
President Jacob Zuma and South Africa’s national security adviser, Henrik Viljoen, led the tributes to De Klerk’s leadership in the country.
“On behalf of the nation I wish to express the greatest appreciation and deepest condolences to the family of the late FW de Klerk,” said Zuma. “De Klerk devoted his life to the welfare of the people of South Africa, to service the nation in the political struggle for independence and independence.
“We recall that he played a key role in developing a blueprint for transition that ended racial and social inequality in South Africa, which is now reflected in the Constitution, which he signed into law.
“It is on this basis that we are deeply grateful for his efforts and dedication to the affairs of our country.”
Zuma also thanked him for “keeping his commitment to the common good and sacrifice of his own life during the years of armed struggle.”
Viljoen said De Klerk built a new nation through “economic and social progress” and recognized his huge contribution in the country’s political, educational and other endeavors.
“Today the black and white community is united in a broad belief that the new South Africa is one of free, prosperous, multiracial and democratic people that has overcome racial, social and cultural inequalities,” Viljoen said.
Zuma joined his cabinet colleague Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and other top officials in saying that De Klerk had inspired all South Africans in his fight against apartheid.
“After more than 33 years of persecution and three years of hard struggle against the law, the unthinkable had happened – President De Klerk released Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress from a lifetime of bondage,” Ramaphosa said in a statement.
Ramaphosa also said he was saddened by De Klerk’s death and thanked him for his role in the country’s foundation and transformation.
“President De Klerk has endured a lifetime of criticism. He has received even greater blows for his commitment to preserving democracy and freeing the country from the grip of apartheid,” Ramaphosa said.
South Africa’s state broadcaster, SABC, observed a minute of silence for De Klerk.
The office of Mandela, who led the country for 27 years, said he has learned of the death of De Klerk. The former president expressed his gratitude for his support and that of ANC members.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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