To celebrate or not? 25 years after democracy, De Klerk divides SA once more

There is an understandable rift between South Africans and the world over FW de Klerk's death.

FILE: South African President Frederik W. De Klerk (centre) smiles while ANC leader Nelson Mandela (right) and IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi shake hands after they signed an agreement at the Union Buildings in Pretoria 19 April 1994. Pik Botha, South African Foreign Affairs Minister (C, 2nd row) looks on. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - South Africans on social media are split on how to react to former apartheid-era president Frederik Willem de Klerk’s death.

The brutal regime’s last president was unwell for some time and died on Thursday morning at his home, according to a statement from the FW de Klerk Foundation.

"It is with the deepest sadness that the FW de Klerk Foundation must announce that former president FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer,” the Thursday statement read.

De Klerk’s passing was marked by celebrations from some South Africans who welcomed the death of someone who presided over the brutal and racist government that terrorised the black population of South Africa. Once again, 25 years after democracy, apartheid South Africa's former president has divided the nation.

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De Klerk has often been credited with releasing South Africa’s first democratically elected president Nelson Mandela, even though there was mounting international pressure and crippling sanctions on South Africa that forced the leadership at the time to rethink its position on banning the African National Congress, South African Communist Party and activists. His legacy for all members of the South African public will always be complex.

For conservative white Afrikaners, he will be seen as someone who betrayed the “volk”.

Others will mourn the loss of a leader who made difficult decisions that would be best for the country but risk his reputation with whom they called the "verkramptes".

There are still those - mainly black South Africans - who will celebrate the death of someone who refused to account for his crimes. He also refused to reveal information that was destroyed or hidden and help lost families find their way through grief carried since 1948, or admit that apartheid was a crime at all - even with his last words.

At the end, there were those South Africans who still reckoned with the effects of his life, highlighting problems that had yet to be resolved and wrongdoing that would go unresolved with his passing.