FW de Klerk’s role in new SA focus of film

More than two decades after South Africa's last apartheid president, FW de Klerk, announced the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the unbanning of all political parties, the debate about his role in shaping the country's political destiny is yet to be settled.

This week, De Klerk, who is revered by some and reviled by others, will once more be in the public spotlight as a film examining the statesman’s legacy opens at the Durban International Film Festival that starts on Thursday.

Titled, The Other Man: FW de Klerk and the end of Apartheid, the documentary solicits the views of some of South Africa’s prominent figures, including former President Thabo Mbeki and Roelf Meyer, who was the National Party government’s chief negotiator in the Multiparty Negotiating Forum that paved the way for the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

While some, particularly within the ANC, continue to be dismissive of De Klerk’s role in ending apartheid, many of the protagonists seem to hold a different view.

“He was one the first president to bite the bullet and say apartheid was not workable,” former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, who features in the documentary, said.

Mandela alone, Phosa said, would not have succeeded in persuading all South Africans to participate in the country’s transition process. “He needed De Klerk.”

De Klerk, the main protagonist, is more than categorical about the role he played in ensuring the country’s transition was not marred by violence and bloodshed.

“What I did was to prevent a catastrophe in South Africa,” he says to his interviewer.

A co-production between US director Nicolas Rossier and Cape Town-based director Naashon Zalk, the film casts De Klerk as an unsung hero whose role in creating a new political order had been consigned to the periphery.

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