Christian leaders reflect on FW de Klerk’s legacy, urge forgiveness

Michael Cassidy, right, briefs then President FW de Klerk in 1992 during a visit by a Pan-African African Enterprise Teamlet who called on him to pray with him as part of a programme to pray with leaders across the political spectrum. Cassidy says it was a very moving time during which De Klerk said: “The only thing that will bring us through is the blood of Christ.”

Michael Cassidy, evangelist, author and founder of African Enterprise and Rev Moss Ntlha, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and justice activist, who both have credentials as bridge-builders during South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and transition to democracy share reflections on the legacy of FW de Klerk, SA’s last apartheid-era president who passed away today at the age of 85

Michael Cassidy: Courageous decision that averted tragedy

The passing of FW de Klerk reminds all South Africans of the historically important role he played in bringing South Africa through to becoming a non-racial, democratic country. Had de Klerk not released Nelson Mandela, unbanned the liberation movements, and instead tried forcefully to screw the political lid down even more, our country would surely have descended into the abyss of epic political and social tragedy and ongoing civil conflict. And we’d still be caught up in it.

But de Klerk made the highly courageous decision to break not just with his own party, but his own history, which included being Transvaal National Party leader for many years when he sought to implement the dreadful policy.

His cynical critics will see his change of heart and mind as totally opportunistic because he finally saw no other other way could pragmatically work. And he was out of options.

But I personally believe he had some sort of genuine Damascus Road experience, whether spiritual or political or both, which he in his last speech to South Africa called “a conversion”.

In that last speech he also apologised to South Africa for the pain and injustice caused by that dreadful system. I felt this apology was genuinely sincere and expressed the pain and remorse of a man who had finally realised with deep regret that most of his political life he had embraced and propagated an iniquitous and unjust policy.

One hopes all South Africans, particularly those most wounded by apartheid, will, like Mandela, extend forgiveness to de Klerk and all who misguidedly inflicted that horrific system on our country.

All this is part of closing past chapters of our story, learning the lessons from them, and opening a new chapter of a happy, prosperous, and just South Africa .

In this I would hope de Klerk will be given his rightful place in our history alongside Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Robert Sobukwe, Desmond Tutu and others.

We in African Enterprise extend deep sympathy to his wife, Elita, and family.

Moss Ntlha: The De Klerk confession

Rev Moss Ntlha

The De Klerk’ confession [see video clip below of recent final confession by FW de Klerk] is a heartfelt one. It is no doubt timed for maximum public effect following his departure. The timing can only mean that he was serious about being remembered for his assertion that apartheid was a bad idea and he was sorry to have been part of it. Cynics have pointed out that he was being disingenuous and politically strategic, that he was saying something without going all the way, and falling on his sword. It begs a question of how, beyond the grave, political strategy would do him any good.

Our nation, for better or worse, requires three things from each of us. 

First, that our history is a record of our collective failures. Some more hideous than others to be sure, but we are all fellow travellers in the journey history making. Some failures in colonial times, some in apartheid times and some in post-apartheid times.

Former president FW de Klerk makes a final, unreserved apology to SA for apartheid

Second, we must muster the courage to forgive. We will run aground in the pursuit of our national project of building from the ruins of apartheid, such as they are, if we continually feel the need not to forgive those who ask for it, as if it makes us stronger. Not only does unforgiveness poison our own souls, a dead De Klerk will not even know we are carrying that baggage. Nor will Verwoerd, or Jan Van Riebeek. 

Third, reconciliation is vital. Nelson Mandela wisely modelled this for us. Who can forget the iconic picture of his visit to Betsie Verwoerd for a cup of coffee with the missus of his former tormenter? To build the future of our children most effectively, the vision of our collective future needs to be stronger than the memory of our past. If our memory is too strong and overbearing, we starve vision of oxygen, and we will build backwards. Our best chance to win a better future is to find a formula that unlocks the contribution  of each South African. This requires that we be kinder to each other. Including De Klerk.

At the end of his earthly life, Jesus was given a curve ball of a rogue who was not even confessing his sins. But he had remorse. Jesus assured him of a place in paradise.

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3 Comments

  1. Sandra Holley

    If God could forgive us what right have we not to forgive !! Thank you Lord for the spirit of forgiveness!

  2. Makhotso Billa

    Well said Rev Ntlha!

  3. Hugh G Wetmore

    Both analyses breathe the Christian spirit. Moss wisely redirects the debate to us: “We must muster the courage to forgive” in order to rebuild from the ruins of apartheid.

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