FW de Klerk. A Man Who Made History

11. November 2021

“Peace does not fare well where poverty and deprivation reign. It does not flourish where there is ignorance and a lack of education and information.“
– Frederik Willem de Klerk –


Frederik Willem de Klerk, former South African President, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and our dear friend, died today. He was a precious man with whom we have been close. In values, in attitudes, in perspective of the past and the future. With whom we spent wonderful moments and whom we will never forget.

Václav Havel introduced us in 2010 during his first and only visit to South Africa and our home in Cape Town with his wife, Dagmar. Meeting Mr. and Mrs. De Klerk with the Havels was very interesting, personal, and almost fateful. Frederik and Václav were of the same age and united by their political experience as presidents dating back to 1989, a time of profound and dramatic change that they considered the fall and end of apartheid and communism, respectively. However, at the time, de Klerk was ending an unfree and cruel system and handing over his power. On the other hand, Havel served the Czech Republic as its first democratic President after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Why has the encounter remained fixed in our minds and hearts? Because history is not black and white, and for us, we cannot separate de Klerk’s role from the successful, and most importantly, bloodless ascent of Nelson Mandela, the brilliant thinker, and statesman on whom a prosperous South Africa still stands today. It was FW who assessed the situation and, indeed despite the objections of some of his own people, released Nelson Mandela from prison. He began serious negotiations with him, his fellow black freedom fighters, and the entire ANC political movement. In doing so, he facilitated a peaceful transfer of power, thinking not only from a legal, political,and  practical point of view, but most notably from a moral point of view. This cannot be underestimated and clearly played a significant role in such a complicated and tense situation.  It is no wonder then that he won the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Nelson Mandela. A distinction we believe he richly deserved. FW was a man who was able to apologize and admit when he was wrong. He later expended significant effort towards the end of his life correcting the mistakes of the regime he represented.

FW de Klerk in friendly chat with Zdenek Bakala. February, 2020, Cape Town
FW de Klerk in friendly chat with Zdenek Bakala. February, 2020, Cape Town

The parallels with our history are still there. Thanks to Václav Havel, the Czech Republic was also able to experience a peaceful transfer of power. The Communist Regime was dismantled without violence and cruel punishment of the guilty or its former minions. Although, many today still debate the extent to which these countries have come to terms with their past wrongs. The Czech Republic did not outlaw the Communist Party, and South Africa offered forgiveness and reconciliation via the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The strength shown by their beloved partners will also connect FW de Klerk and Václav Havel. It has been our honor to help develop the Vaclav Havel Library and Foundation and support Dagmar Havlová as she works to represent the legacy of Václav Havel today. So too, will we embrace the opportunity to support Elita de Klerk in her efforts to serve the FW de Klerk Foundation for the rest of her life and take an active part in the emerging Centre for the Institute. We appreciate the opportunity to be there.

Frederik W. de Klerk left active politics in 1997. However, he did not stop caring about the fate of South Africa. Up to the last day of his life, he defended his country and the new South Africa, founded by Nelson Mandela. Like many other countries today, South Africa is plagued by internal divisions, corruption, and disillusionment stemming from various developments in recent years. It is also struggling with its political representation, Covid, migration, and many other problems. Despite all this, it is a beautiful and great country with vast mineral wealth, rich culture and history, a proud population, well-functioning institutions, a free media, an independent judiciary, and a modern constitution thanks to de Klerk and Mandela. It is one of the few countries in the world today that, after the democratic ousting of the previous president, Zuma, was able to launch an immediate criminal investigation on suspicion of corruption and even imprison him on contempt of court.

Michaela Bakala and Frederik W. de Klerk at the auction organised by the FW de Klerk Foundation in February, 2020.
Michaela Bakala and Frederik W. de Klerk at the auction organised by the FW de Klerk Foundation in February, 2020.

The world, and no country in it, is a perfect place, but we believe it’s important to have ideals, believe in them, fight for them, and courageously uphold them. It is daily work, often thankless, and sometimes even dangerous. Frederik W. de Klerk knew this, and to his last breath, he held firm to his convictions.

Our shared values and ideals made us personal friends years ago. We have found a second home in South Africa, made friends, and sought out the opportunity to get involved in local life. We are proud supporters of the FW de Klerk Foundation, established to support multi-community activities and develop democracy in South Africa. The Foundation seeks to support and promote the South African Constitution, advocate unity in diversity, support charities that care for disabled and disadvantaged children and spread awareness of the legacy of the presidency of FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

Michaela Bakala and the de Klerks with the replica of the Cape Argus newspaper front page from February 2, 1990.
Michaela Bakala and the de Klerks with the replica of the Cape Argus newspaper front page from February 2, 1990.

We are grateful for every moment our children were able to spend time with FW and his second wife, Elita, the love of his life. Their beautiful relationship, warmth, refinement, education, and wisdom, has been and will always be a motivation and strength to us. The world should listen to people with life experiences like FW and learn from people who no longer play an active political role. FW was not only a politician but, more importantly, a statesman and a warm person with a lifetime of insight. He was interested in the whole world and its development, lecturing and traveling until the last months of his life. He participated in Forum 2000 several times. He deeply loved Prague and the Czech Republic.

We will never forget our last meeting at his Cape Town home exactly one month ago, on October 11th. Fate allowed us one last in-person hug and goodbye. Our friend lived a life full of meaning and purpose, and he will be sorely missed. Our sincere condolensces are with his wife and family today.


Michaela and Zdenek Bakala



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