Analysis  >  Friday Briefing: FW de Klerk's comments have caused a firestorm. Former NP minister Leon Wessels, author Antjie Krog and historian Lindie Koorts weigh in

Friday Briefing

FW de Klerk, apartheid and repentance: How the ghosts of apartheid linger, refusing to let go

I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past couple of years in conversation with Leon Wessels, a former member of FW de Klerk’s cabinet. One of the privileges of being a journalist is being able to ask individuals who help shape history about their motives, cause and effect. And so it has been with Wessels, who has taken great care to explain his experience of the tumult and turbulence of the 1980s and 1990s to me. 

When De Klerk’s comments blew up last week, I again reached out to Wessels, who helped forge South Africa’s final Constitution before carving out a second career as a respected human rights campaigner and legal academic. What followed was the conclusion of a conversation that started in the winter of 2019, about reconciliation, apartheid and crimes against humanity.

I believe his insights and honesty are invaluable. The highlight of this week’s Friday Briefing however must be the contributions of acclaimed poet, author and academic Antjie Krog, and historian Lindie Koorts. 

Both Afrikaners and both women, they write with searing honesty and devastating skill about how De Klerk not only failed to ask for forgiveness from oppressed South Africans, but left his people stranded. In the words of Krog, they were left behind as kansvatters, or chancers. Koorts believes they are still wandering in the desert, uncertain how to relate to their apartheid past. 

Our country remains wounded. If nothing else, De Klerk’s tone-deaf comments have forced us to take a hard look at ourselves. Hopefully we emerge better for it. All of us. 


Pieter du Toit

Assistant Editor

The repentant nationalist: Apartheid crimes are for my account, says Leon Wessels who served in FW de Klerk’s Cabinet

FW de Klerk's statement that apartheid was not a crime against humanity led to a firestorm and has damaged the former president's legacy, perhaps fatally. Leon Wessels, who served in De Klerk's Cabinet vehemently disagrees with the former president, and says apartheid's crimes are his crimes, writes Pieter du Toit.

FW de Klerk never had any moral intention, and he left us behind as white kansvatters

For FW de Klerk political reforms and reconciliation was never about moral intention, but always about political strategy. He has become the failed unrepentant face of white people, writes Antjie Krog.

No shame, no remorse: How Afrikaners are dealing with their apartheid past

When FW de Klerk made his submission to the TRC, no other Afrikaner was in as strong a position as he to set an example in facing up to the apartheid past, and he failed to do so, writes Lindie Koorts.



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