FW De Klerk: the ultimate ‘joiner’

by The Editor

FWdeKlerkARTICLE: One from the archives – a look at the many political positions former President FW de Klerk adopted during his political career, as captured by five key comments. Together with the ANC, in opposition to the ANC, for the ANC, against the ANC, de Klerk has done it all. It’s a muddled historical record, but one worth noting if only to provide some context, the next time he speaks from a position of some ostensibly conviction.

FW De Klerk: the ultimate ‘joiner’

By: Gareth van Onselen

7 March 2013


Dr Mamphela Ramphele says she is not a “joiner” (although, presumably, everyone else is, as she would like them all to please join her, somewhat ironically, and patronisingly). Whatever her attitude, it pales in comparison to former President and National Party leader, FW de Klerk – South Africa’s all-time champion joiner.

These days de Klerk seems to have settled into the role of ‘concerned citizen’ and while the FW de Klerk Foundation does much advocating on his behalf, every now and then he sticks his head above the parapet to offer some or other controversial opinion. An ‘independent’ analyst of an unconvincing sort. Certainly he is highly critical of the ANC (he said in November last year that “the ANC was primarily responsible for the current [economic] crisis”.) Before that, however, he was supportive of the NNP’s decision to merge with the ANC. Before that, he was supportive of the NNP’s decision to form the DA. And before that, he was supportive of the NP’s decision to administer South African, together with the ANC, in a Government of National Unity. So its difficult to take him too seriously.

Perhaps de Klerk is not done yet, and in one final dramatic about-turn, he will again join the ANC or endorse it in some way. Given his track record, its a distinct possibility.

Below is an article from the archives, which I first published on 7 January 2007. It is a simple enough collection of the five key justifications de Klerk made, as the NP, then the NNP, lurched from one extreme to another, slowly eroding away its identity as it did so. I say the NNP, but one should distinguish the small official faction from the bulk, who stood by their convictions and the DA. For what remained, led by Marthinus van Schalkwyk – a man with more faces than a hydra – pretty much anything went, including what flexible principles the party could muster, so long as there existed at the end of it all some promise of power. And when not at the forefront of such change, de Klerk could be found in the background, parroting the desired party line.

Remember, these are not subtle shifts in policy or position, but quantum leaps – from government to opposition, and nationalism to liberalism (and back again). That kind of change is perhaps plausible once, twice it becomes dubious but anything more suggests a set of personal values about as robust as a cheese cracker.

It is worth recalling this kind of behaviour not merely because the drama of current affairs encourages a kind historical amnesia but because it says something about the ANC too. The NNP might no longer exist but in the ANC that same desire for position and power still burns bright. For any student of politics, I would argue, it is interesting too. Here, then, is the article.

FW de Klerk: the ultimate joiner
7 January 2007

Former President FW de Klerk never had to worry about floor-crossing – the relevant legislation only came into effect long after he had retired from politics – nevertheless, all indications are had he been around when it did come into effect he would certainly have made use of it, and made use of it often.

The now defunct New National Party (NNP) had always looked to the former President for an endorsement ahead of any major policy decision and, more often than not, he was happy to oblige. But as the NNP’s decision-making, under the opportunistic leadership of Marthinus van Schalkwyk, became more and more erratic, and less and less consistent, so De Klerk’s endorsements became more and more farcical.

Consider the following: In 1994 the NP joined the Government of National Unity (GNU) then, in 1996, the NP withdrew from the GNU, in 2000 the NNP joined the DA and then in 2001 the NNP left the DA until finally, in late 2001, the NNP again joined the ANC, formally shutting up shop in 2004, to complete a full circle. At every turn de Klerk was there to sanction the change.

NNP supporters were left wondering: was the NNP an opposition party? Was it in government? Did it support the ANC’s policies or did it oppose them?

The truth is that, at any one point, any one of the above was true. It all became a bit confusing.

In recent South African politics van Schalkwyk is widely regarded as the ultimate two-timer but, actually, De Klerk takes some beating. For each one of those fundamental u-turns De Klerk either justified (when it was his decision) or endorsed (when it was van Schalkwyk’s) the move and it, among other things, has left his stature severely dented.

Here are five key quotes from FW de Klerk’s past, each justifying a new political path for the New National Party and its predecessor, the National Party:

1. The NP joins up with the ANC to form the GNU – May 1994

“I look forward to working with him (Nelson Mandela) constructively within the Government of National Unity in our common effort to promote the well being of all our people. During the past four years we have proved that we can work together. Despite our differences, our relationship has become a symbol of the ability of South Africans from widely different backgrounds to co-operate in the national interest. This spirit will be essential to the success of the Government of National Unity. Just as we could not rule South Africa effectively without the support of the ANC and its supporters, no Government will be able to rule South Africa effectively without the support of the people and the institutions that I represent. I enthusiastically pledge that support in the interest of working for national reconciliation and reconstruction.”

[From a speech by President F.W. De Klerk on the election results, 2 May 1994.]

2. The NP pulls out of the GNU – 3 June 1996

“[Continued participation in the GNU] was equivalent to a death sentence for even the broadest and mildest concept of Government based on consensus. Continued participation would be equivalent to detention on a kind of political death row. The survival of multi-party democracy, which depends on the existence of a strong and credible opposition, was being threatened by our continued participation in the GNU.”

[From a speech by the Deputy President FW de Klerk in Parliament, explaining his decision to withdraw, during the debate on his budget vote, 3 June 1996.]

3. The NNP joins the Democratic Party to form the DA – 25 June 2000

“In the last years of my leadership of the NP I committed myself to the realignment of the party political scene. Our goal was a new political movement spanning colour divisions and based on shared values and principals. What is now happening [the formation of the DA] is an extremely important step in that direction and also gives expression to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of opposition voters. I am very pleased to give my full support to the alliance and believe that it is the beginning of a process to bring moderates from all communities in South Africa together in a dynamic political movement.”

[As reported in the Citizen newspaper on 26 June 2000, De Klerk was speaking overseas at the time.]

4. The NNP pulls out of the DA – 25 October 2001

“The DA has embarked upon the course of traditional, competitive, opposition politics. Its leaders argue that genuine democracy requires principled opposition and sharp and aggressive competition between contending parties. The NNP has now opted for the second model. I have sympathy for them. My first choice during the negotiations before 1994 was an inclusive, power sharing model. The idea was not to provide minorities with a veto, but rather to ensure that they would be full participants in addressing some of the enormous challenges that confront SA – such as Aids crime, poverty and unemployment.”

[FW de Klerk, writing in the Financial Mail, 9 November 2001]

5. The NNP joins the ANC – November 2001

“The cooperation agreement between the NNP and the ANC… has my full and enthusiastic support. I will vote for the NNP because I want to be represented by a party which can make a difference. The stronger the NNP becomes the greater the difference would be.”

[FW de Klerk, speaking in Stellenbosch at an NNP fundraising dinner, 2 February 2004.]

  • Gareth van Onselen (@GvanOnselen) is the Editor of Inside Politics (@insidepols), Winner: Best Political Blog 2012.

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