Now's not the time: De Klerk Foundation withdraws apartheid statement

The foundation withdrew its statement calling the idea that apartheid was a crime against humanity was “soviet agitprop”, but has said nothing about FW de Klerk's own statements on apartheid.

FILE: Former President FW de Klerk. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The FW de Klerk Foundation has withdrawn its statement saying apartheid was not a crime against humanity.

On 2 February 2020, the former deputy president of democratic South Africa FW de Klerk commemorated the 30th anniversary of a speech he gave on the same day in a 1990 speech, calling to an end the banning of the ANC and the South African Communist Party, and the release of Nelson Mandela and other leaders from prison. De Klerk was the last apartheid president of the country.

After the interview this year, SABC reporter Manelisi Dubase asked De Klerk his thoughts on the United Nation's decision to call apartheid a crime against humanity.

"I don't fully agree with that. I'm not justifying apartheid in any way whatsoever … I profusely apologised for that … but there is a difference between calling something a crime. Like genocide is a crime. Apartheid cannot be, for instance, compared with genocide. There was never genocide."

When Dubase highlighted that there were mass killings during apartheid, De Klerk said that more people "died because of black-on-black violence than because of apartheid".

WATCH: FW de Klerk’s SABC interview

His comments were followed by widespread and scathing criticism from the public and the Economic Freedom Fighters.

On 14 February, the FW de Klerk Foundation issued a statement saying the idea that apartheid was a crime against humanity was “soviet agitprop”.

It prompted a statement by the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation, calling on the organisation to withdraw its statement.

The EFF called him a murderer during the State of the Nation Address this year, delaying President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech for more than an hour.

In a statement released on Monday, which states it's from De Klerk himself but has been issued under his foundation, the former president said he agreed with the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation that his statement was totally unacceptable.

He also said this was not the time to quibble about the degrees of unacceptability of apartheid.

The De Klerk Foundation apologised for the impact of that statement on the public.

“The FW de Klerk Foundation has accordingly decided to withdraw its statement of 14 February unconditionally and apologises for the confusion, anger and hurt that it has caused.”

The statement said nothing about De Klerk's comments during the SABC interview.

The statement went back to De Klerk’s voice, saying that under his leadership, the legal framework of apartheid was changed.

“By 27 April 1994, under my leadership, the whole legislative framework of apartheid had been dismantled and the way had been opened for the adoption of our present non-racial democratic constitution.”

It acknowledged the international crime of apartheid did not disappear once democracy was brought in, but put the words “crime of apartheid” into inverted commas in the statement.

“In 1998 it was included in the Statute of Rome, which established the international criminal court. In terms of article 7(1) a ‘crime against humanity’ is defined as acts “…committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”

“It includes ‘the crime of apartheid’ as a crime against humanity and defines it as ‘inhumane acts ...committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

Towards the end of the statement, the foundation agreed it supported the provisions.

“The FW de Klerk Foundation supports this provision. It can also be seen as the legislative expression of Nelson Mandela’s statement during his inaugural address that 'never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another'.

"The FW de Klerk Foundation remains deeply committed to national reconciliation and to the achievement of the foundational values on which the constitution is based - including human dignity, the achievement of equality, the advancement of human rights and freedoms; non-racialism and non-sexism, the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law and a genuine multi-party system of democratic governance."