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De Klerk’s Death: How South Africa Saw Its Last White President

Having shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, former President Frederik Willem de Klerk was largely credited with courageous leadership and a key role in dismantling apartheid. But his legacy, both before and after the transition, is decidedly mixed.

Photo of former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk who died yesterday at age 85

F.W. de Klerk, who died yesterday at age 85, leaves a contrasted legacy

Mourned, derided, in equal measure…

Since South Africa's last white ruler Frederik Willem de Klerk died at his home in Cape Town on Thursday at the age of 85, the reactions of South Africans have mirrored the contradictions that characterized de Klerk's political life.

De Klerk is widely heralded for his role in dismantling the brutal apartheid state and ushering in the dawn of South Africa's democracy, having shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with Nelson Mandela, who succeeded him as president.

In a statement on Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa labeled his actions "courageous," and celebrated his "decision to unban political parties, release political prisoners and enter into negotiations with the liberation movement amid severe pressure to the contrary from many in his political constituency."

"He became a small man"

But not all reactions were positive. In an article by South African weekly Mail & Guardian, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation acknowledged de Klerk's pivotal part in the country's transition to democracy. But the foundation also chose to repeat the words of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu — another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — who said before de Klerk's death that he "could have gone down in history as a truly great South African statesman, but he eroded his stature and became a small man, lacking magnanimity and generosity of spirit."

After becoming the leader of the National Party in 1989, F. W. de Klerk was expected to continue the system of racial segregation and repression of dissent of the party — a party that his grandfather helped form in the 1940s.

But instead, on February 2, 1990, at the opening of parliament in Cape Town, de Klerk gave a quantum leap speech that stunned the world: announcing a series of reforms including lifting the ban on the African National Congress. A week later, he sanctioned the release of Mandela, the charismatic freedom fighter with whom de Klerk would negotiate the end of apartheid.

A complicated legacy

The Star Nov. 12 front page

South African daily The Star's Nov. 12 front page

The Star

The pain of apartheid

However, there are many South Africans who will never view de Klerk as the national hero which he has largely become to the international community.

While, As Deputy President from 1994 to 1996, de Klerk played an instrumental role in the Government of National Unity, many still hold he missed the many chances he had to fully reconcile with South Africans. The most glaring example is de Klerk's failure in February 2020 to fully acknowledge the extent of the damage caused by apartheid, telling public broadcaster SABC he felt there weren't enough deaths to qualify it as a crime against humanity, despite it being declared such by the United Nations in 1962.

In a video released by his foundation on the day he died, de Klerk didn't backtrack on the matter, even though he apologized for the "pain" inflicted by apartheid, or what he called in the video "separate development."

Ending apartheid

@eNCA, 11/11/2021

Failing to reconcile

The controversy over de Klerk's death, only weeks before the 25th anniversary of South Africa's democratic constitution, also comes at a time when the risk appears greater than ever that the country's hard-earned progress could be undone.

Already reeling from decades of economic decline and the corruption-plagued rule of Jacob Zuma, South Africa is also suffering the brutal consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, with looting and riots having swept the poverty-stricken country during the summer. In June, as hundreds were killed in a mix of political and protest against structural poverty, President Cyril Ramaphosa called it some of the worst violence witnessed in South Africa since the 1990s.

De Klerk's death is a reminder of both the oppression and liberation of the past, but also the uncertainty of South Africa's future.

A return to the past?

The Citizen's Nov. 12 front page reading "FW's dying words"

The Citizen's Nov. 12 front page

The Citizen

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Society

Tour Of Istanbul's Ancient Yedikule Gardens, At Risk With Urban Restoration

The six-hectare gardens in the center of Istanbul, which are more than 1,500 years old, have helped feed the city's residents over the centuries and are connected with its religious history. But current city management has a restoration project that could disrupt a unique urban ecosystem.

Photo of Muslims performing Friday prayer in the garden of Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul.

Last March, Muslims performing Friday prayer in the garden of Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul.

Tolga Ildun via ZUMA Press Wire
Canan Coşkun

ISTANBUL — The historic urban gardens of Yedikule in Istanbul are at risk of destruction once again. After damage in 2013 caused by the neighborhood municipality of Fatih, the gardens are now facing further disruption and possible damage as the greater Istanbul municipality plans more "restoration" work.

The six-hectare gardens are more than 1,500 years old, dating back to the city's Byzantine era. They were first farmed by Greeks and Albanians, then people from the northern city of Kastamonu, near the Black Sea. Now, a wide variety of seasonal produce grows in the garden, including herbs, varieties of lettuce and other greens, red turnip, green onion, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, pepper, corn, mullberry, fig and pomegranate.

Yedikule is unique among urban gardens around the world, says Cemal Kafadar, a historian and professor of Turkish Studies at Harvard University.

“There are (urban gardens) that are older than Istanbul gardens, such as those in Rome, but there is no other that has maintained continuity all this time with its techniques and specific craft," Kafadar says. "What makes Yedikule unique is that it still provides crops. You might have eaten (from these gardens) with or without knowing about it."

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