Former South African President Frederik Willem De Klerk, the last leader under apartheid and a key actor in the country’s transition to democracy, has died, his foundation has announced.

“FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer,” the FW de Klerk Foundation said in a statement on Thursday.

He was 85 years old.

Together with Nelson Mandela, De Klerk oversaw the end of white-minority rule in South Africa.

In February 1990, he delivered a speech at the the county’s Parliament, announcing sweeping reforms that marked the beginning of the negotiated transition from apartheid to democracy.

The reforms lifted the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid organisations, and authorised the release of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. It also put a moratorium on the death penalty.

The speech marked the official end of segregation policies and the start of the negotiations that led to a constitutional democracy with equal rights for all South Africans.

Amid gasps, several members of parliament members left the chamber as he spoke.

Nine days later, Mandela walked free.

Four years after that, Mandela was elected the country’s first Black president as Black South Africans voted for the first time.

By then, De Klerk and Mandela had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their often-tense cooperation in moving South Africa away from institutionalised racism and toward democracy.

“De Klerk is survived by his wife Elita, his children Jan and Susan. The family will, in due course, make an announcement regarding funeral arrangements,” his foundation said in its statement.



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