FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, has apologized for his comments suggesting apartheid wasn’t a crime against humanity.
De Klerk, 83, retracted his remarks this week following public outcry and apologized for the”confusion, anger and hurt it has caused,” the Agence France-Presse reported.
“I agree with the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation that this is not the time to quibble about the degrees of unacceptability of apartheid,” he said in a statement issued via his foundation. “It was totally unacceptable.”
De Klerk, who fought alongside Nelson Mandela to dismantle white-minority rule in South Africa and shares the Nobel Peace Prize with the late political leader, sparked controversy when he denied that apartheid — institutionalized racial segregation — was a crime against humanity.
He made the comment in recent interview with national broadcaster SABC on Feb. 3, marking the 30th anniversary of of his landmark address announcing Mandela’s release from prison in 1990.
De Klerk said: “The idea that apartheid was a crime against humanity was and remains an agitprop project initiated by the Soviets and their ANC/SACP allies to stigmatise white South Africans by associating them with genuine crimes against humanity.”
The former president then doubled down on his remarks in a statement posted to his foundation’s website.
This did not sit well with lawmakers from the liberal Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, who staged a raucous protest during parliament on Feb .13 and demanded de Klerk be removed. Things reportedly got so out of hand that current President Cyril Ramaphosa was forced to delay his annual State of the Union address, according to AFP.
“We have a murderer in the House,” said Julius Malema, leader of the opposition group, who later characterized de Klerk as an “apartheid apologist … with blood on his hands.” President Ramaphosa was finally able to begin his speech after almost 90 minutes, BBC News reported.
The ruling African National Congress also took issue with the politician’s comment, criticizing it as a “blatant whitewash.” Officials with the Nelson Mandela Foundation were a bit more forgiving, however, and accepted de Klerk’s apology.
It has since called for continued discussions between itself and de Klerk’s charitable foundation “not just about the statement and the retraction, but in trying to get them to see their role in trying to fix what was broken through the government that FW De Klerk was the leader of.”