Apartheid's last leader quits his sinking party

His reputation has been further damaged by the atrocities exposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ... one newspaper described Mr de Klerk as SA's very own Rip Van Winkle, who chaired the Security Council but slept through all the violence

F W de Klerk , South Africa's last white president, resigned yesterday as leader of the National Party, amid predictions that his political demise was one more nail in the coffin of his beleaguered party.

Mr de Klerk said that his decision to quit the NP, the Afrikaner-dominated party which enforced apartheid during a four-decade rule, was a sacrifice for the party's future.

He said the "unjustified perception" that the NP was still linked to a guilt-ridden past was obstructing political realignment in the country. "The last remaining high-profile link with the old NP and its so-called baggage withdraws himself from the active party-political scene," said Mr de Klerk yesterday in Cape Town.

His withdrawal may prove a useless gesture. For even if the political reinvention was possible - and that is very doubtful - Mr de Klerk is leaving a party at war with itself; ripped apart by conservative die-hards who argue too much of Afrikanerdom has already been conceded in the negotiated transition to black majority rule and reformers who insist the NP must transform itself into a black-led, multi-racial mass movement to survive.

Yesterday Mr de Klerk claimed there had been no internal pressure on him to resign.

But for months, the man who stunned the world in 1990 by unbanning the ANC, releasing Nelson Mandela and entering into negotiations to end white minority rule, has struggled to create a viable opposition to the ANC, all the time torn between his left and right wings.

In the end he failed to please either. Yesterday the right-wingers were the most vocal. General Constand Viljoen, of the right-wing Freedom Front, said Mr de Klerk 's departure was a positive development in Afrikaner politics, while a Boerestaat Party spokesman said Mr de Klerk's "treachery towards his people was unequalled." The past eight months have been particularly tough for Mr de Klerk . The extent of right-wing discontent became evident earlier this year when Die Burger, a conservative Afrikaans newspaper, launched an unprecedented attack on Mr de Klerk 's leadership. It appears to have weakened Mr de Klerk 's support for the party's reformers.

Three months ago Roelf Meyer, a reformer who won acclaim as the NP's chief negotiator during the peace talks, resigned to start a new political movement.

Mr Meyer left after the NP reform think-tank he headed was axed under pressure from the right. A haemorrhage of reformist NP members has followed and Mr Meyer's new party will be launched next month.

Since Mr Meyer's departure the NP's fortunes have continued to decline. Mr de Klerk's resignation comes a week after a new survey showed NP support has slumped to 12 per cent, compared to 21 per cent in the 1994 elections.

White desertion of the political process is largely responsible. Research also suggests the party has actually lost the little black support it had.

Only in the Western Cape, dominated by NP-supporting Coloured (mixed- race) voters, does the NP have political control; leading to predictions that it will soon become just a regional force, holed up in the only province it controls.

"The NP is a sinking ship," said Theo Bekker, political science lecturer at Pretoria University. He argues there is no one to take Mr de Klerk 's place.

Neither front-runner - Marthinus van Schalwyk, one of the reformers who remain, and Hernus Kriel, Western Cape premier and darling of the right - have the stature necessary to prevent further splintering.

Yesterday political commentators said Mr de Klerk, 61, should have got out while his reputation was intact. For the last year has been as damaging to him as his party.

Mr de Klerk undoubtedly deserved the international acclaim - and the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize he shared with President Nelson Mandela - for his dramatic decision to enter into negotiations with the ANC.

It went against everything he, as a member of the elite Afrikaner conservative establishment, seemed to stand for and came just a year after he ousted the ailing PW Botha from power. But recent concessions to his right wing have sullied his reformist credentials.

And his reputation has been further damaged by the apartheid-era atrocities exposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the independent body charged with exposing the truth about South Africa's past.

In May Mr de Klerk 's failure to disclose all he is assumed to know about the NP's sins to a special TRC hearing - and his refusal to accept responsibility on behalf of his party for apartheid-era human-rights abuses - almost reduced Archbishop Desmond Tutu, TRC chairman, to tears.

His performance also won him almost universal criticism in the international and national press. One newspaper described Mr de Klerk as SA's very own Rip Van Winkle; a political leader who chaired the country's Security Council but somehow managed to sleep through all the violence it sanctioned.

The debate about just what Mr de Klerk will be remembered for will rage for years. But yesterday some, at least, were generous.

Stanley Magoba, leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, said Mr de Klerk had at least been an NP leader willing to listen. "I used to see him as a living example of dialogue, as opposed to PW Botha's monologue."

President Mandela's regard for Mr de Klerk has apparently plummeted since 1994.

But yesterday he said that, personal shortcomings apart, South Africa should not forget Mr de Klerk 's contribution in smoothing the transition from "our painful past."

Tony Leon, of the Democratic Party, went further. "Mr de Klerk will be much better judged by history than by his critics and opponents now," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness