Note: An earlier headline had the former president spelled as F.W. DeKlerk. The correct spelling should be F.W. de Klerk
Nelson Mandela is not the only iconic South African leader in hospital – now, his former adversary, turned ally, ex-President F.W. de Klerk, has entered hospital on Tuesday to have a cardiac pacemaker installed. De Klerk, 77, the last white president of South Africa before the fall of apartheid, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993. He returned from a trip to Europe last weekend and subsequently complained of dizzy spells. De Klerk reportedly cut short his visit to Europe in order to be nearer to Mandela, 94, who is languishing in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital.
“He has had several such spells in recent weeks, and his specialist recommended the immediate installation of a pacemaker,” said a statement from the F.W. de Klerk Foundation. He is scheduled to undergo the operation at a Cape Town hospital and be released as early as Wednesday. “It is a routine procedure,” Dave Steward, the executive director of the Foundation, told Agence France-Presse. “He will spend the night in hospital.”
De Klerk, who had two cancerous nodes removed from his colon seven years ago, expressed his concerns for his former government partner, Mandela, prior to his own hospitalization. According to the South African Press Association, the country’s current present, Jacob Zuma, sent his good wishes to de Klerk. "We wish the former president well during this difficult time. Let us keep him and his family in our thoughts and prayers," Zuma said in a statement. ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu added: "We wish Mr. de Klerk good health and a speedy recovery.”
De Klerk became president of South Africa in 1989 as chief of the National Party. He immediately set about releasing Mandela from prison after 27 years of confinement and legalized the African National Congress. After a few years of negotiations, apartheid fell and Mandela was elected president in 1994 as the first black leader of the country in the post-apartheid era.
Long after he was out of office, de Klerk made some revelations that would have likely endangered his political career during the apartheid era. Like many so-called “white” South Africans, de Klerk was actually of mixed-race descent. In his autobiography, "The Last Trek A New Beginning", he indicated that one of his ancestors was an Indian slave woman from Bengal – her grand-daughter married a man named Barend de Klerk, in 1737. "This was part of my genealogy of which we did not speak and of which I did not know when I was a child," he wrote. He also stated that Hendrik Bibault, the half-brother of Diana's daughter Susanna, was the first settler in South Africa to call himself an “Afrikaner.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.