Former South African President FW De Klerk arrives for the state of the nation address in Cape Town, February 13 2020. Picture: BRENTON GEACH / POOL / AFP
Former South African President FW De Klerk arrives for the state of the nation address in Cape Town, February 13 2020. Picture: BRENTON GEACH / POOL / AFP

The FW De Klerk Foundation has been condemned for denying that apartheid was a crime against humanity.

FW De Klerk, apartheid SA’s last leader, controversially expressed the same view as his foundation in an interview with the SABC recently, suggesting that apartheid was not a grand-scale crime that could be compared to genocide.

During the state of the nation address last week, the EFF called for De Klerk to be ejected from the National Assembly chamber as he is “a murderer”.

“And therefore it is an insult to those who died [under the instruction of De Klerk] that the commander of Vlakplaas [the apartheid-era police’s special unit] ... be here. He has to leave this parliament because he does not belong here,” EFF leader Julius Malema said.

The EFF eventually staged a walkout.

De Klerk was president of SA from 1989-1994 and negotiated a transition from the apartheid system to democracy and majority rule.

In condemning the EFF’s action last week, De Klerk’s foundation said: “The idea that apartheid was ‘a crime against humanity’ was, and remains, an ‘agitprop’ project initiated by the Soviets and their ANC/SACP allies to stigmatise white South Africans by associating them with genuine crimes against humanity — which have generally included totalitarian repression and the slaughter of millions of people.”

The foundation said about 23,000 people died in SA’s political violence from 1960-1994, and fewer than 5,000 were killed by the security forces.

“Most of the rest of the deaths occurred in the conflict between the IFP and the ANC. None of this is meant to whitewash the injustices that were undoubtedly committed under apartheid.

“However, we need a balanced understanding of the past — not one based on a simplistic black/white, good/evil framework — but on a framework that reflects the infinite shades of grey that actually characterise history.”

The foundation further stated that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found no evidence implicating De Klerk in the violence, “despite the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission clearly had an agenda to incriminate De Klerk”.  

The ANC, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, and the SA Council of Churches released statements at the weekend condemning the De Klerk Foundation comments.

The ANC said the foundation should not undermine the “compact that forms the foundation of our democracy, which is that we deal with the past through institutional mechanisms and the rule of law”.

“Indeed, apartheid was a brutal system of oppression and underdevelopment, and the UN in 1973 correctly declared it a crime against humanity,” the ANC said.

The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said: “In the 26th year of SA’s democracy, it is irresponsible for the foundation representing former president FW De Klerk to debate the degree of awfulness of apartheid.  

“Instead of unequivocally recommitting the former president to the democratic ideal of one SA for all in response to an EFF demand that Mr De Klerk leave parliament before last week’s state of the nation address could proceed, by engaging in semantics and questioning whether apartheid was in fact a crime against humanity the foundation reopens old wounds.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za