Term Paper: F.W. De Kerk: The Struggle

Pages: 8 (2267 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature - African  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] De Klerk immediately embraced a consultative approach, beginning to consult with Mandela about the pending political shift in South Africa while Mandela was still in prison.

He also released restrictions and opened up new avenues for new voices to participate in the political process. Specifically, he lifted the ban on opposition parties including the ANC, and removed restrictions on their access to the media.

Nevertheless, de Klerk faced great opposition from his newly empowered opposition.

And, over time, there are hints that de Klerk felt a degree of betrayal or bitterness due to the lack of ongoing support for his emboldened moves. This may be best illustrated in his partial withdrawal from his reform agenda.

But de Klerk's own actions worked against him far more so than Mandela's half-hearted approval.

As the 1994 elections drew closer, de Klerk's fear of black power became even more pronounced and posed an even greater threat to his political stature.

According to Ottaway, de Klerk started to undermine his own reforms.

After several years of carrying out reforms, de Klerk changed direction, at times allowing his ministers, "full rein to undermine the reforms' spirit, even their letter, through countermeasures" (Ottaway 251).

Ottaway further contends that de Klerk enacted reforms only to the extent necessary to have American and European sanctions lifted.

But it was not only the blacks and Mandela that de Klerk had to win over. De Klerk's changing attitude towards reforms was strongly influenced by an increasingly disenfranchised white population.

Repeals of apartheid legislation had put whites on the defensive as blacks were free to move into their neighborhoods and began to assert themselves in local and national politics and outside of the traditional realm of tribal politics.

In addition to Afrikaners concerned about changes and their place in the post-apartheid world, de Klerk had to deal with an increasingly militant right wing.

While these groups were often derided or discredited in the Western press, particularly the more extreme neo-Nazi groups, they also held the support of many farmers, an influential voting block.

Thus, de Klerk faced losing more votes to the Conservatives, who were benefiting from the difficult compromises that de Klerk sought in order to appease Mandela and the ANC. Thus, De Klerk's balancing act as he sought to negotiate a just and fair constitution on behalf of the minority ultimately resulted in his leaning more right than left.

Although this secured his political survival within the minority political system, it resulted in his failing to win over some of the majority vote that he always felt was possible.

Nevertheless, despite the high price the National Party paid for its slow embrace of reform, de Klerk continued to address the shortcomings of the South African political system and initiate reform.

In 1997, de Klerk announced his resignation and initiated the dismantling of the Government of National Unity, with the stated intent of re-establishing a strong minority ruled opposition party in South African politics.

The move was lamented by Mandela who felt the party was stronger unified. Yet de Klerk's concern over a lack of strong opposition was legitimate. That fear is as relevant today as it was in 1999 with President Thabo Mbeki's recent re-election, securing a two-thirds majority in parliament for the African National Congress (ANC).

And it was de Klerk's opportunity to attempt to remake the National Party with the benefit of lessons learned from its earlier reform efforts.

Although the National Party's transition to the post-apartheid world was flawed, it is hard to discount de Klerk's pivotal role in not only eliminating apartheid but pushing for the continual reform of the South African political system to ensure a "balance of power."

Although the weight of the National Party's past cast a long shadow on its role in the new South Africa, its reform was ongoing. In hindsight, that reform took much longer than its architects imagined. And its failure to win the widespread support under the new South Africa it had once envisioned was party attributable to the fact that the party's heart was not yet wholly behind its policies. But it cannot be disputed that de Klerk played an important role in moving that reform forward up until the time of his resignation. Indeed, de Klerk viewed his resignation in 1997 as part of the reformation process, as he stated, removing one of the last vestiges of apartheid from the party.


De Klerk, F.W. The Man in His Time. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 1991.

De Klerk, F.W. The Last Trek - A New Beginning. New York: MacMillan, 1998.

Ottaway,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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