UF. W. de Klerk, South Africa's last apartheid president, dies at the age of 85

It was de Klerk who, in a speech to the South African parliament on February 2, 1990, announced that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison

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UF.W. de Klerk, who co-hosted the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela and was the last South African apartheid president to rule the end of a minority white rule, has died at the age of 85.

De Klerk died after a battle with cancer at his home in Fresnaye, Cape Town, confirmed a spokesman for F.W. de Klerk Foundation Thursday.

De Klerk was a hot topic in South Africa when many accused him of black violence and anti-apartheid activists during his tenure, while other whites saw his efforts to end apartheid as a luxury.

It was de Klerk who, in a speech to the South African parliament on February 2, 1990, announced that Mandela would be released from prison after 27 years. The declaration enriched the country which for decades had been despised and approved by much of the world because of its brutal apartheid system known as apartheid.

Mandela And de Klerk Share Award

This was followed by ANC South African leader Nelson Mandela, South African President FW de Klerk and former President Bill Clinton in Philadelphia on July 4, 1993. Susan Winters Cook / Getty Images File

As South Africa's divisions deepen and its once strong economy collapses, de Klerk, who was elected president just five months earlier, also announced in a similar speech the lifting of the ban on the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid political parties.

During a sigh of relief, several members of parliament came out of the house while he was speaking.

Nine days later, Mandela was released.

Four years later, Mandela was elected the country's first black president as Blacks voted for the first time.

At the time, de Klerk and Mandela had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their strong cooperation in removing South Africa from institutional discrimination and democracy.

The country will be, de Klerk told the media after his shocking speech, "a new South Africa." But Mandela's release was just the beginning of heated political debates on the way forward. Power will change. A new constitution was to be drafted. Lifestyles would be promoted.

The rate of change was high. As de Klerk stated in his Nobel speech in December 1993, more than 3,000 people died in South Africa's political violence that year alone. Reminding his Nobel laureates, he and his colleague Mandela continued to oppose politics, and strong disagreements. But they will continue “because there is no other way to bring peace and prosperity to our people.”

After Mandela became president, de Klerk served as vice president until 1996, when his party resigned from Cabinet. In recording history, de Klerk acknowledged that Mandela's release was the culmination of his predecessor, former President P.W. Botha, had first met privately with Mandela shortly before leaving office. By the late 1980's, during the internal and external protests, the ruling party had begun making some changes, removing racist laws.

De Klerk also met privately with Mandela before his release. He later said at their first meeting that Mandela was taller than expected, and was impressed by his stance and dignity. De Klerk will say he knows he can "do business with this man." But not easily. They argued bitterly. Mandela accused de Klerk of condoning the massacre of black South Africans during the political revolution. De Klerk said Mandela could be very stubborn and unreasonable.

Later in life, after the devastating political change in South Africa, de Klerk said that there was no longer any animosity between him and Mandela and that they were friends, visiting each other at home.

But De Klerk did not seem to fit easily into the Nobel Prize. He remained a victim of the anger of some white South Africans who saw his actions as a betrayal. Although he publicly apologized for the pain and humiliation caused by apartheid, he was not welcomed and accepted as an icon, like Mandela.

Despite his role in the transformation of South Africa, de Klerk will continue to defend what his National Party decades ago declared as the goal of apartheid, the development of white and black South Africans. In reality, however, apartheid forced millions of black Africans to move into independent “nations” where poverty was widespread, while a white minority occupied much of South Africa. Apartheid starved black South African educational resources, created racial tensions, created black slums on the outskirts of white cities and divided families.

De Klerk at the end of his life would have admitted that "separation but equality has failed."