F.W. de Klerk leads off new Bucknell Forum
Posted: November 24, 2008
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F.W. de Klerk timeline
- Graduated with a law degree from Potchefstroom University in 1958, practiced law in Vereeniging after graduation.
- Elected to Parliament in 1972 as National Party member for Vereeniging.
- Appointed to several government posts under then-Prime Minister John Vorster, 1978-1989. Also served in the House of Assembly.
- Elected leader of the National Party, 1989. Called for reform and a non-racist South Africa in his first speech.
- Elected president, September 1989.
- Lifted ban on the African National Congress and freed its leader, Nelson Mandela. Brought apartheid to an end and led the way in drafting a new constitution based on the principle “one person, one vote.”
- Named one of two deputy presidents under Mandela, who succeeded de Klerk as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
- Shared the Nobel Peace Prize and Philadelphia Peace Prize with Mandela, 1993.
- Retired from politics, 1997.
- Started the Global Leadership Foundation, a group of former heads-of-state who assist world leaders by offering impartial advice on peace, democracy, economic development and political challenges, 1997-present.
LEWISBURG, Pa. – To understand F.W. de Klerk's place in history, one might envision being in his shoes when he gave the order to free Nelson Mandela, suggests John Doces, an assistant professor of political science at Bucknell University.
While it may seem a simple choice to free a man imprisoned 27 years for challenging a government built on racism and oppression, de Klerk, as president of South Africa in 1990, also was in the unusual position of destroying the very entity that empowered him.
"If I were to try to put myself in de Klerk's shoes, I would say it was hugely significant for him and the society," Doces said. "He would have to have known that by doing that, (freeing Mandela) he would basically tear down all the institutions that gave him privilege and power."
De Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993 for bringing an end to apartheid, will be the inaugural speaker in the new Bucknell Forum series, “Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century." He will give a talk, “Bridging the Gap: Globalization without Isolation,” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. The event will be free and open to the public.
Called for nonracist government
Following a career in South African government, Frederik Willem de Klerk was elected president in 1989. He immediately began calling for a nonracist government and was instrumental in dismantling the country’s century-old system of apartheid, despite intense and violent resistance from the country’s white population. He lifted the ban on the African National Congress and other opposition parties, and in 1990 released Nelson Mandela from prison.
De Klerk’s leadership brought apartheid to its end and led to the adoption of South Africa’s first fully democratic constitution, which allowed for a multiracial government, in 1993. Mandela succeeded de Klerk as president in 1994, and de Klerk became one of two vice presidents in a government of national unity.
In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Mandela and de Klerk also shared the Philadelphia Peace Prize in 1993, and in 2002, President Thabo Mbeki bestowed on them the order of Mapungubwe: Gold in honor of their exceptional contribution to the process of peace, national reconciliation and nation-building in South Africa.
De Klerk previously was awarded the Prix du Courage Internationale (The Prize for Political Courage) and the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Prize.
Since his retirement from government in 1997, de Klerk has run The Global Leadership Foundation, a group of former heads-of-state who assist world leaders by offering impartial advice on peace, democracy, economic development and political challenges. He published his autobiography, The Last Trek – A New Beginning, in 1999.
Lessons to learn
Bringing an end to apartheid and opening the system of government to all races in South Africa set a precedent for the democratization of other countries in Africa, Doces said.
"The ramifications extend far beyond its own border," Doces said.
The historic events in South Africa could shed light on the effectiveness of strategies to end oppressive regimes, such as economic sanctions, Doces said. In many cases – notably in Iraq - economic sanctions have not been effective. In South Africa, economic sanctions were more widely enforced and thus more effective.
"If you put sanctions on oil, there is always someone who will free-ride off of that," Doces said. "The sanctions seemed to work in South Africa. Is this going to be a tool we can use in the future? Can we use this as a political tool in the future rather than invading countries?"
South Africa under apartheid is similar to Iraq in that there is a "conspicuous constraint on progress," Doces noted. In South Africa's case, it was racism. In Iraq's, it was genocidal authoritarianism.
Replacing one government for another, however, is not a simple process that can be applied by outsiders with a universal blueprint.
"Developing countries, contrary to western perceptions, are generally not a homogonous group," Doces said. "A single blueprint to create positive political and economic change will not work."
One characteristic developing countries typically have in common is the presence of a large youth population, Doces said, and measures must be taken to strengthen that core group to ensure the success of a new government.
"If you free up the youth population from a racist or authoritarian regime, you must be ready to absorb the youth population in a way that will generate support for the new regime," Doces said. "If the youth remain unemployed, they will pose a serious obstacle to development. Nevertheless, country-specific circumstances must be taken into account when attempting to co-opt the youth populations and promote development in general."
In South Africa, Mandela was part of the anti-apartheid movement while in prison, and he was ready to step in as a leader when he was freed from prison, Doces noted. De Klerk also continued as a top executive in the new leadership.
Doces plans to ask de Klerk if the economic sanctions helped bring about change and development in South Africa or if, ultimately, it made things worse. He also wants to know if de Klerk envisions South Africa being a leading economy in Africa within the next 25 years, although the global economic crisis will make it more challenging for developing countries to build their economies.
"African countries have difficulty accessing markets when the economy is good," Doces said. "This economic downturn, sadly, is just one more barrier."
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