De Klerk, South Africa's last president under the system of apartheid, will speak on Wednesday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m., in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House. The talk is free and open to the public. Details for large-group reservations will be forthcoming.
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 a 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. De Klerk also began laying the groundwork for South Africa's first ever multiracial elections which were held in 1994. A year earlier, he and Mandela were co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in the democratization of South Africa.
Frederik Willem de Klerk was born in Johannesburg in 1936 to a prominent Afrikaner family. Both his father and uncle had held prominent positions in the South African government, and the young de Klerk also seemed interested in pursuing a career in the public service. After graduating from law school, de Klerk worked as an attorney before winning his first parliamentary seat in 1972. In 1978, he was appointed to the South African Cabinet, and from 1982-1989, de Klerk served as the leader of the National Party in Transvaal, the most populous of South Africa's four provinces. He was elected national leader of the party in February 1989 and became president seven months later after P.W. Botha was forced to resign because of illness and allegations of erratic behavior.
De Klerk and the National Party lost the 1994 elections to Nelson Mandela and the ANC. However, de Klerk was sworn in as a deputy president under Mandela in a coalition
government that was created to ensure a smooth transition to democracy. In May 1996, de Klerk resigned from his post as deputy president and retired from active politics a year later. He now spends most of his time lecturing throughout the world and working on his autobiography.
De Klerk's talk in the Great Names Series follows presentations by fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, political strategists Mary Matalin and James Carville, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. Best-selling author Maya Angelou was scheduled to be last fall's Great Names speaker, however, her speech was canceled due to illness.