FW de Klerk spoke on CNN, saying the idea of separated ethnic communities was not repugnant
Former South African president FW de Klerk has sparked outrage after he gave a television interview in which he appeared to justify elements of apartheid.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 76, faced widespread condemnation this morning after he told the American news network CNN he believed there was merit in the idea of different ethnic groups living apart.
Mr De Klerk told CNN that the idea of ethnic communities being separated, as under apartheid, was ‘not repugnant’.
He added that black people were not deprived of power under the apartheid regime, saying: ‘They were not disenfranchised, they voted’
FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela addressing crowds after Mandela’s inauguration in 1994
The former president served as South Africa’s last white leader before the advent of democracy in 1994, and served as deputy president under Nelson Mandela until 1996.
He was asked by CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour whether he believed apartheid had been morally repugnant.
He answered: ‘In as much as it trampled human rights it was and remains morally indefensible.
‘I have made the most profound apology in front of the Truth Commission and on other occasions about the injustices which were wrought by apartheid.’
But he added: ‘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.
‘In South Africa it failed. By the end of the 70s we had to realise, and accept and admit to ourselves that it had failed. And that is when fundamental reform started.’
Mr De Klerk made his remarks as he spoke to CNN in Chicago, where he has been attending a summit of Nobel laureates.
The statesman was awarded the peace prize jointly with Nelson Mandela in 1993 after the pair negotiated a peaceful end to apartheid.
Mr De Klerk’s National Party had previously controlled a white minority government in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.
Former South African presidents Nelson Mandela, left, and FW de Klerk, right, pose with their Nobel Peace Prizes in Oslo in 1993
The party brought in a series of draconian laws which formalised a system of apartheid in which racial groups were forced to live apart.
By the late 1950s the apartheid government had developed its policy to include the creation of ‘homelands’ for the black population.
The supposedly-autonomous states, which received little international recognition, comprised less than 15 per cent of South Africa’s land but were designed to house around 80 percent of its people.
The policy was greeted with mass protest by the country’s majority black population, who were denied the vote and forced to obtain permits to visit or work in white areas.
In his interview with CNN Mr De Klerk said he had initially believed in the concept of apartheid.
He said: ‘There is this picture that apartheid used to be compared to Nazism.
De Klerk, right, meeting former Prime Minister John Major at Number 10 Downing Street in 1992
‘It’s wrong, and on that, I don’t apologise for saying that what drove me as a young man, before I decided we need to embrace a new vision, was a quest to bring justice for black South Africans in a way which would not – that’s what I believed then – destroy the justice to which my people were entitled.’
He added: ‘That’s how I was brought up. And it was in an era when also in America and elsewhere, and across the continent of Africa, there was still not this realisation that we are trampling upon the human rights of people. So I’m a convert.’
When he was asked a second time whether he believed the policy had been morally wrong, he said: ‘I can only say in a qualified way.
‘Inasmuch as it trampled human right, it was – and remains – and that I’ve said also publicly, morally reprehensible.
‘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.
‘They were not put in homelands, the homelands were historically there. At that stage the goal was separate but equal, but separate but equal failed.’
Mr De Klerk’s comments today sparked a wave of outrage in South Africa.
The former president was the top trending term on Twitter as thousands posted remarks condemning his views.
Many called for the retired statesman to return his Nobel peace prize in light of his apparent unwillingness to accept apartheid was wrong.
One tweeter, Nqubi, wrote: ‘You see what forgiveness gets you.’
Journalist Victor Dlamini added: ‘I suppose De Klerk played a role in ‘ending’ Apartheid in the same way a hostage taker plays a role in “releasing” his hostage.’
Another person wrote on Twitter: ‘FW de Klerk remains a bitter apartheid apologist and defender. Can’t say I am shocked.’
Thabo Mekwa added: ‘Oh de Klerk what have you done. Now you’re helping create a new breed of young racists who were born in a democracy. 2 steps back for all.’
Mr De Klerk stepped down from public life following Mr Mandela’s election as president in 1994.
The former statesman now lives in Cape Town and conducts work through the FW De Klerk Foundation.
His spokesman Dave Stewart today said the retired statesman had not intended to cause offence.
He said: ‘What he was trying to say was that the Union of South Africa was an artificial creation.
‘If you have an artificial creation you can go two ways – either by going your separate ways like in the Soviet Union or in what is being suggested for Israel and Palestine, or by trying to build a multicultural society.
‘Mr De Klerk was saying that as a young man they tried to go for the first option in South Africa.
‘They changed course when they realised it was not working.’
He added: ‘It is not immoral for the Afrikaners to want to rule themselves any more than it is for the Israelis or the Scots to wish for the same things.
‘Mr De Klerk meant no offence by his comments and the response is unjustified.
‘It is a nonsense to suggest he should return his peace prize.
‘In fact South Africa is now a constitutional democracy whose citizens have rights which were created through the negotiations that he himself set in motion.’