Nelson Mandela was the first President of South Africa and served from 1994 to 1999. After serving 27 years in prison for his involvement in anti-apartheid revolutionary activity, his government focused on facilitating racial reconciliation and fighting poverty and inequality.

F.W. de Klerk was the seventh and last State President of South Africa under apartheid rule. He held the office from 1989 until 1994, when Mandela was elected. During that time, his administration brokered the end of apartheid. From 1994 until 1996, he was Deputy President of South Africa, and worked with Mandela to transform South Africa into a multi-racial democracy.


“De Klerk told me that he was born into apartheid, raised under apartheid, and had become an enthusiastic leader of the apartheid movement.  Nevertheless, he had reached the conclusion that there was no place for apartheid in a modern South Africa.  His first grandson had just been born.  Unless apartheid was abolished, he said, there would be no future for his grandson in South Africa, where his ancestors had lived for over two hundred years.” (Page 173)

“I started with a visit to the home of Albertina Sisulu, the wife of Mandela’s prison mate of twenty-five years, Walter Sisulu. Albertina, a leading anti-apartheid militant in her own right, was confined to her home under house arrest. During our discussions over tea, I said that we were hearing from business sources that the white political leadership was thinking about ending apartheid and moving toward majority rule. But there was fear in the white community about the unknown consequences of such a change, after so many years of harsh repression of the black population. Albertina laughed and said, “Why should they worry? We are all Christians.” That response really flicked a light bulb on in my head.” (Page 174)

“I witnessed Mandela’s ability to be tough and stubborn when he considered it expedient. During the four years of negotiations, he walked out a few times to express disgust with the white negotiators. At one tense point, white extremists were stirring up ethnic violence in the black townships in order to sabotage the discussions.  Mandela walked out of the talks and said they would not resume until the violence stopped.  This required that I travel to South Africa. I held a press conference to say that the only way to deal with political violence was to ignore it and persevere with the negotiations. Giving violence credibility would only invite more violence. Mandela got the point and returned to the negotiating table. But he demonstrated that when it came to the future of his country he was not “Mr. Nice Guy.” 

An irony of the two parties’ decision not to invite the United States to be a mediator was their regular ad hoc recourse to successive American ambassadors, Williams Swing and Princeton Lyman, each time there was an impasse. In substance, the United States was the mediator, but only when the negotiations became stalled.  I called the process an “invisible American mediation.” (Page 177)

“De Klerk did not apologize for apartheid. He did not say that it was wrong, and therefore, immoral. He had believed in it for a long time, and then no longer did. Both he and Nelson Mandela were thereby joined at the hip as hardheaded politicians working to make South Africa live up to its vast potential.” (Page 173)

Mandela’s Background

  • Born in 1918 in South Africa’s Cape Province
  • Attended Methodist schools, was baptized in the Methodist church and given the name “Nelson”
  • Helped found the African National Congress Youth League in 1944
  • Became involved in the African National Congress National Executive in 1950, began involvement in nonviolent resistance campaigns against apartheid
  • Arrested in 1952 under the Suppression of Communism Act
  • In 1963, Mandela and his comrades were charged with four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to life in prison
  • In 1989, F.W. de Klerk assumed the presidency and freed Mandela in 1990

De Klerk’s Background

  • Born in Johannesburg in 1936
  • Came from a family of conservative white South African politicians
  • Elected to the House of Assembly in 1969
  • State President of South Africa from 1989-1994
  • Declared his support for ending apartheid in 1989
  • Freed Mandela in 1990
  • Deputy President under Mandela from 1994-1996