FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, died on Thursday at the age of 85, after helping to lead the country to democracy yet never fully acknowledging the country’s apartheid heritage.

His organization announced in a statement that he died at home early Thursday after a battle with cancer.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison, political parties were unbanned, and De Klerk later shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the anti-apartheid icon.

Nonetheless, he never found a home in democratic South Africa, and he became known as an apologist for the segregationist regime’s torture and murders.

His evidence had been sought in a number of recent trials involving prior atrocities.
But, in an unexpected gesture, he apologized in a postmortem video message.

In a video broadcast by his organization, he said, “I without qualification apologize for the agony and hurt, the indignity, and the devastation that apartheid has caused to black, brown, and Indians in South Africa.”

“De Klerk’s legacy is a great one,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation said, expressing the thoughts of many. It’s also an uneven one, which South Africans must face right now.”
De Klerk “played a crucial role in our transition to democracy,” according to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

One of the few international leaders to express condolences swiftly was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who praised De Klerk’s “steely courage and realism in doing what was obviously right and leaving South Africa a better country.”

“The former president held a historic but challenging spot in South Africa,” stated the office of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, one of the fiercest critics of apartheid.

Tutu was displeased with De Klerk’s appearance before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the white-minority regime’s atrocities.

Tutu voiced “disappointment that the former president had not offered a more wholesome apology to the people on behalf of the National Party for the crimes of apartheid,” according to his foundation.

Julius Malema, the communist Economic Freedom Fighters’ 40-year-old leader, did not hide his emotions. He wrote, “Thank you God,” with five dancing emojis, mirroring the views of many young South Africans on social media.

“Rather than dividing our country, may his loss and memories make us even more resolved to strive toward an unified South Africa,” said Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen.
De Klerk’s importance to South Africa’s democratic transition “cannot be emphasized,” he remarked, while his predecessor Tony Leon compared him to Mikhail Gorbachev.

Leon tweeted that if he hadn’t abandoned control in 1994, “SA today would most certainly be Syria or Venezuela.”

Despite the UN’s declaration that apartheid constituted a crime against humanity, De Klerk aroused outrage last year when he disputed it.

“The idea that apartheid was a crime against humanity was and continues to be a Soviet agitprop endeavor… to stigmatize white South Africans,” he stated.

Ramaphosa reacted fiercely, calling the lawmakers’ remarks “treasonous.”
Later, De Klerk apologized and retracted the inflammatory statement.
His father, an apartheid senator who served briefly as interim president, was born in Johannesburg to a family of Afrikaners, a white ethnic group descending primarily from Dutch invaders.

De Klerk was elected to parliament as a member of the National Party, which established apartheid, after studying law.

Before becoming president in 1989, De Klerk held many cabinet roles before handing over the reins to Mandela after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.