Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|November 12, 2021|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editors Desk

"When a leader falls in Africa"

Always time to take stock when a leader falls in Africa and that is what I felt myself this week with the passing of FW de Klerk – the last white president of South Africa.

Rarely has a leader divided opinion and created controversy right up to the grave.

His supporters cherish the image of de Klerk collecting the joint Nobel Prize for Peace for ushering in democracy avoiding the bloody civil war that many feared and came so close just before the elections in 1994.

The man who freed fellow Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela in 1990 and dismantled South Africa’s nuclear weapons programme – he was called a traitor by his own people for what they saw as selling out to the African National Congress.

Even in death, FW de Klerk was making news with the release of a posthumous video in which he said: “I, without qualification, apologise for the pain and the hurt and indignity that apartheid has done to black, brown and Indians in South Africa.”

Many of his critics will see those posthumous words as hollow. In the de Klerk years between 1989 and 1994, he may have allowed more protest and unbanned political parties – but the security police were still in full swing: killing and dumping activists in unmarked graves. The apartheid system continued to make black South Africans feel like second class citizens – foreigners in their own land.

There is also a school of thought that believed de Klerk was merely arranging the inevitable anyway– sanctions were biting and the anti-apartheid movement was so effective that South Africa hardly had a friend left in the world. It even had to play its beloved sport on its own.

When it comes to de Klerk, I have the same question that I put to the late rebel Rhodesian premier Ian Smith when I interviewed him on his farm in Shurugwi in Zimbabwe in 1996.

“Why did it take so long to end it, when you knew the game was up?”

The most damning expression of this was a cartoon by South African Zapiro, someone I know and respect for his ability to satirize cant, chicanery and corruption wherever he finds it.

To wit, a cartoon, he drew back in 1998, when a minister in the South African government of national unity said on a visit to Robben Island, off Cape Town, where Mandela spent two decades as a prisoner: “If only we had a Mandela and de Klerk 20 years ago.”

The cartoon had an image of de Klerk and Mandela back in 1978. De Klerk is dressed in smart suit ready to start a buttered life in Parliament in Cape Town a young cabinet minister; Mandela is in prison uniform breaking rocks in the quarry on Robben Island a few kilometres away . Question : What DID de Klerk do 20 years ago? Answer: not much.

My theory on all this is the ending of sanctions, in both countries, would not only have saved oceans of blood and pain, but also created two free inter-linked power houses rich in resources. They’d have attracted investment by the bucket load and could have led whole the whole of sub-Saharan to economic glory. What countries South Africa and Zimbabwe could have been.If only.

Photograph :,_1990.jpg