Former president FW de Klerk could not find peace in the apartheid system, so much so that it affected him psychologically.
That’s according to his widow, Elita de Klerk, who gave an emotional tribute at her husband’s state memorial service in Groote Kerk in Cape Town on Sunday.
Earlier, a handful of people had attempted to disrupt the service they said was a painful reminder of apartheid.
Elita shared how she and De Klerk were once watching anti-apartheid veteran Walter Sisulu’s funeral on television and he was very emotional and distraught.
“He said to me, ‘What have we done?’ I said to him: ‘Why can’t you show this emotion to the public, to the people outside?’ He said: ‘I cannot betray my forefathers.’ But later he was sorry for this.
“He was torn between intellect and emotion. His emotion was for the pain the country was going through. He could not find peace in this horrendous system. This had affected him psychologically.
“He once told me of a repeated nightmare that he was having, falling out of an airplane, free fall. At the time, I discussed this with my therapist. The explanation was, mother earth was calling him, the time had come to express his feelings [ about apartheid].”
The explanation of the nightmare would have paved the way for him to break his silence on the injustice after having kept quiet due to the fear of “betraying his ancestors”.
“Suddenly, choosing emotion did not seem like a betrayal of his ancestors, it meant justice. Of course, a lot of his fellow Afrikaners did not see it this way,” said Elita.
He was always concerned about the new SA, like a father to a young child.
De Klerk died last month aged 85 after a long battle with cancer. He was laid to rest in a private ceremony. He had ruled over the final years of apartheid between 1989 and 1994.
“He was a man of strong beliefs and great values and extremely correct. This correctness sometimes turned to his detriment. He was often misunderstood due to this over correctness.
“A man of long planning, once he knew what he wanted to achieve, he planned it meticulously, anticipating all obstacles in order to bring it to reality,” Elita said.
As the leader of the National Party, which initiated and whose official policy was apartheid, he announced broad reforms and plans for a new constitution in February 1990. These included the unbanning of liberation movements, the release of political leaders from prison, and the start of negotiations for a transition to a democratic country.
Ramaphosa critical of De Klerk’s legacy but says he must be ‘released’ so he can rest in peace
President Cyril Ramaphosa says while the country’s last apartheid-era head of state FW de Klerk played a critical role in the transition to …
“FW and I had a lot of conversation about politics, with my interest in psychology. We often discussed how much this system of oppression had scarred the African soil. He was always concerned about the new SA, like a father to a young child.
“We had dinners with Madiba and Jakes Gerwel, talking about this young child: How well is this young child? What are the challenges of this child with its troubled, compromised background?” she said.
In Mandela, SA was blessed with extraordinary leadership who understood that without peace the country would be torn apart, would be without development. “Even though FW and the ANC had disagreements, they understood this.”
The visibly emotional Elita said she would forever cherish De Klerk.
“I don’t want to use the past tense when I speak about FW, my love for him will keep him by my side. I want to pay tribute to this man, the love of my life who became perhaps, unlikely a committed parent to a new country.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa also paid tribute to De Klerk who had played an instrumental role in the transition to democracy. He admitted that De Klerk’s legacy remained contested.
“We can neither ignore nor must we ever seek to dismiss the anger, the pain and the disappointment of those who recall the place FW de Klerk occupied in the hierarchy of an oppressive state. We must never forget the injustices of the past,” Ramaphosa said.