FW de Klerk, South Africa’s first black president, dies at 85

De Klerk, who as the country’s first black president led negotiations that culminated in the end of apartheid, died on Saturday night in Johannesburg

The former South African president and Nobel peace prize laureate FW de Klerk has died at the age of 85.

Klerk’s death was announced by the ruling African National Congress, as tributes poured in for the man who was the first black president of post-apartheid South Africa.

Klerk, a former general and army chief of staff, became president in 1989 after he was sworn in following the end of white minority rule. He turned a new page for South Africa and led the negotiations that resulted in the end of apartheid. The end of white-minority rule ushered in a black majority government in 1994, after the end of apartheid.

Presidents in Tanzania and Nigeria described de Klerk as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. “The world is truly poorer of his passing,” said Tanzanian President John Magufuli.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo said that as a new nation, South Africa had opened “the floodgates of freedom for the oppressed peoples of Africa”.

“He was a symbol of hope to people of Africa and the liberation movements of Africa, as well as an admired statesman who exercised good judgment in handling the difficult and sensitive task of reconciliation,” Obasanjo said.

De Klerk and former president Nelson Mandela, who was also imprisoned during apartheid, later signed the 1994 treaty bringing an end to white minority rule in South Africa.

A close ally of the late Pope John Paul II, he was awarded the 2000 Nobel peace prize for his role in resolving the crisis that followed the deaths of nearly 600 churchgoers in the infamous Soweto riots in 1976.

Klerk’s death was announced by his office.

“His wife, Sarah, and their children, Jenny and Sharron, are deeply saddened by this loss. He died peacefully at home surrounded by his family. He is gone but the flame he lit will forever burn in our hearts,” the office said in a statement.

The current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said in a tweet: “To all who felt he wasn’t right, wrong or too timid, we are grateful.”

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