FW de Klerk led the ruling National Party on a new trajectory when he became state president in 1989. He dismantled apartheid laws, unbanned the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the Pan Africanist Congress, and released Nelson Mandela from prison.

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FW de Klerk's brother, Dr Willem de Klerk, was the editor of a liberal local newspaper and openly criticised the National Party.

Frederik Willem (FW) de Klerk was born in Johannesburg on 18 March 1936. His grandfather and father were both involved in politics. His father, Jan de Klerk, was a Cabinet minister. FW would eventually follow in his father's footsteps.

After matriculating from Monument High School in Krugersdorp, he was admitted to Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, where he became involved in student politics. He graduated with BA and LLB degrees (cum laude) in 1958. He worked as an attorney until 1972, when he turned down an offer to assume the position of chair of administrative law at Potchefstroom University to concentrate on his political career.

The decision paid off. Later that year he was elected as member of Parliament for Vereeniging. Five years later, aged 42, he was appointed to the Cabinet. During the next 11 years he served as a minister in a number of portfolios, including mineral and energy affairs, and national education.

He was a rising star in both the National Party (NP), the ruling party of the day, and in the government. On 1 July 1985 he was appointed chairperson of the Minister’s Council in the House of Assembly, and 18 months later he became leader of the House of Assembly.

In 1989 the NP caucus chose him as leader of the party at national level. Before the end of the year he was running the country and had committed to working towards a democratic South Africa.

De Klerk took over a month before the 1989 general elections, when the incumbent state president, PW Botha, was forced out by his Cabinet. In September of that year De Klerk was sworn in as president of a country that was on the brink of civil war, shunned by the international community and on the verge of bankruptcy as investors and banks withdrew from the apartheid state.

On 2 February 1990 – a year to the day after he became leader of the NP – he stunned the world by unbanning the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party and the Pan Africanist Congress.

Nine days later Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison a free man after having spent 27 years behind bars.

It would take four years before the first democratic elections were held in South Africa. During that time De Klerk and Mandela led their teams in often acrimonious debate leading up to the negotiation of a peaceful settlement.

Following the elections in April 1994, which the ANC won by a landslide, De Klerk handed over the reigns to Mandela on 10 May 1994. The former president became one of Mandela's executive deputy presidents under a Government of National Unity.

De Klerk led the NP into the opposition benches in June 1996 after withdrawing from the Government of National Unity. He was leader of the official opposition until his retirement from active party politics on 9 September 1997.

After retiring as a politician, De Klerk remained a sought-after international speaker and prolific media commentator in his capacity as head of the FW de Klerk Foundation.