The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation extends its condolences to the family of former president FW de Klerk. The FW de Klerk Foundation in a statement confirmed that the last apartheid president died at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma
cancer. Mr de Klerk was 85 years old. From 1989 until 1994, Mr de Klerk served as State President until the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela. In the government of national unity, De Klerk was inaugurated as
one of South Africa’s two Executive Deputy Presidents until his resignation.
In 2015, struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada wrote the following opinion piece: We must strive for reconciliation daily
I am writing this as an interested individual and also as one who happened to have
been among the beneficiaries of former President de Klerk’s decisions. I do not hold a
position in any public organisation and remain a rank-and-file member of my ANC
Much has been said and written about Mr FW de Klerk in recent weeks. What evoked
considerable reaction was the decision of the Cape Town Council to rename a major
road in the city in honour of former President de Klerk. The views expressed publicly
varied between enthusiastic support for the idea and explicit and vocal objections to it.
I, however, thought it appropriate for me to revert to the past, and in doing so, recall
my personal experiences. I am fully aware of the public criticism expressed, among
others, by some of my friends, especially comrades who are holding prominent
positions in public life. I have no hesitation in assuming that in keeping with the
mores of the ANC, and with respect to their views, they will accept my right to
express my views – albeit somewhat different.
Had my view been solicited on this matter, I would have indicated that I have no
objections to a road being named after the former State President. While I disagreed
with the policies of his political party, I am of the view that the release of political
prisoners in October 1989 and the unbanning of political organisations placed the
country firmly onto a road of a negotiated settlement, which was to culminate in the
historic 1994 elections and ultimately a new Constitution for South Africa. The
effects of global pressure against apartheid and the internal mass struggles would have
ultimately led to the collapse of apartheid, but had it not been for Mr De Klerk’s bold
steps, we would perhaps have spent another decade or more in struggle, which could
have left South Africa a wasteland.
Reconciliation is an ongoing process and will sometimes move at great speed and at
other times, will appear to be a lost cause. It nevertheless is something that we must
strive for daily.
If a street renaming makes a contribution in that regard, than it should be supported.
In the same vein, when a street or town needs to have a name change and serves to
make us a more cohesive society, we should support it. Let me for a moment go back
to the past. On Tuesday, 10 October 1989, Walter Sisulu,
Govan Mbeki, Elias Motsoaledi, Wilton Mkwayi and Andrew Mlangeni and I paid a
visit to Mandela at Groot Drakenstein Prison. When our visit ended, Madiba said,
“Chaps, this is farewell, because you are going to be released.” Without any
excitement we responded, “We’ll believe it when it happens.”
Before returning us to Pollsmoor Prison, we were informed by the prison authorities
that we would first be having dinner at Groot Drakenstein. At 8pm while at dinner, we
were dumbfounded when we saw the TV news report carrying President de Klerk’s
announcement that the eight prisoners were to be released. Naturally, I looked for my
name; it was number 8! But he didn’t say when.
On the following Wednesday, we were told by the then Chief Warder, Christo Brand,
to pack all our belongings because we were going to be ‘transferred’. By this time,
Christo and I had become friends, so much so that his wife Estelle used to bake a
Christmas cake for me, which he illegally smuggled to me in prison. He also told me I
could also include my prison uniform, dish, mug and spoon.
On the morning of Friday, 13 October 1989, we were flown in our civvies to
Johannesburg Prison. The next day, the head of the prison informed us that he had
received a fax from Prison Headquarters in Pretoria that we were going to be released
the following morning.
Early on the morning of Sunday, 15 October 1989, we were driven to our homes. At
about 5.30am, I knocked at the door of my brother’s house in Lenasia. My very first
visitor was Laloo Chiba, my dear friend and comrade, who had spent 18 years with us
on Robben Island.
Subsequently, I had met Mr De Klerk at several functions. By now we had developed
an easy and comfortable interaction between us. I once thanked him for his
announcement about our release, but complained that he didn’t say when. His
response was, “Good things come a little at a time.”
After 26 years of my life in prison, it would be churlish of me not to say, “Thank you,
President de Klerk,” for eventually crossing the Rubicon and rising to the occasion
when the country needed you to do so.