April 8, 1998
F.W. de Klerk, along with Nelson Mandela, played a major role in initiating the reforms that marked the end of apartheid and white minority rule in South Africa. Soon after becoming president in 1989, de Klerk lifted the 30-year ban on the African National Congress (ANC), released ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison, abolished the principal laws of apartheid and instituted constitutional reform. F.W. de Klerk also began laying the groundwork for South Africa's first-ever multiracial elections, which were held in 1994. In recognition of their roles in the democratization of South Africa, de Klerk and Mandela were co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
In his speech, Mr. de Klerk expressed great confidence in the future of South Africa with regard to overcoming current racial problems. "Although I have a lot of criticisms about what is happening in South Africa today, I have the fundamental, deep confidence that we have the capacity and the human resources and the will to overcome the racial problems we have," he said. When asked if he could change one decision he made as leader of the National Party during apartheid, de Klerk said it would have been the timing. Of Mandela, de Klerk stated that he "maintains a high respect for him," despite their frequently strained relationship as leaders of rival parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum. While most attendees admired the vision and optimism of the speech, some expressed skepticism about his motives for initiating reform; they believed his decision was more a shrewd political maneuver than a moral and religious realization.