An interview in which South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk, reportedly defended the notion of racially separate states has sparked outrage in his home country, where the effects of apartheid remain prevalent.
Mr de Klerk, who with Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for dismantling apartheid, made his comments in an interview broadcast in the US by television network CNN last Thursday.
Speaking to journalist Christiane Amanpour, the former leader of the National Party apologised for the profound injustices the apartheid system had facilitated, but then appeared to defend the homeland system of governance and the idea of separate states based on ethnicity.
In the 1950s, under the apartheid system, black South Africans were separated according to ethnic groups and restricted to living in areas known as homelands, unless they had permission from the white government to live and work in other areas.
“What I haven’t apologised for is the original concept of seeking to bring justice to all South Africans through the concept of nation states,” he said.
“But in South Africa it failed,” he said. “And by the end of the ’70s, we had to realise, and accept and admit to ourselves that it had failed.” When asked whether he wanted to say apartheid was morally repugnant, Mr de Klerk said it was, in as much as it trampled human rights. “But the concept of giving as the Czechs have it and the Slovaks have it, of saying that ethnic unities with one culture, with one language, can be happy and can fulfil their democratic aspirations in an own state, that is not repugnant,” he maintained.
As the interview progressed, Mr de Klerk denied blacks in the homelands were disenfranchised, saying they voted there.
As news of the interview spread to South Africa, Mr de Klerk came under a barrage of criticism from individuals, civil society groups and political parties.
The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution called on Mr de Klerk to retract his comments. “The very notion of ‘separate development’ was at the centre of the apartheid ideology, and was predicated on notions of racist supremacy, as was Nazism,” it said. The National Health and Allied Workers’ Union called for Mr de Klerk’s Nobel prize to be taken away, saying he had exposed himself as “an unapologetic proponent of a racist, fascist system”.
The FW de Klerk Foundation said their founder’s comments about the homeland system were taken unfairly out of context.
“The interview dealt with de Klerk’s views as a young man. He tried, as frankly as he could, to explain what motivated him at the time. What motivated him as a young man ceased many years ago to motivate him as a political leader,” the foundation said.
Culled: Irish Times