Don’t forget ‘The Other Man’

Most Americans won’t remember his name: F.W. de Klerk. Roll that around in your mind and see if that rings a bell. Probably seeing a photo of him won’t help either. De Klerk is the titular “other man” in Nicholas Rossier’s “The Other Man: F.W. de Klerk and the End of Apartheid.”

The full title might help your memory a bit. De Klerk and Nelson Mandela were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize together for their work transforming South Africa into a democracy. De Klerk was born in 1936. He became the president of South Africa in 1989 and served until May 1994. That made him the seventh and last head of state under apartheid.

The Nobel Peace Prize came in 1993. He had already won the Félix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize in 1991 from UNESCO, also shared with Nelson Mandela “for their contribution to international peace, to encourage them to continue in their effort and as a tribute to what they have done to educate their people toward overcoming of prejudice that many would not have thought possible a few years ago.” That prize has just been established in 1990 and de Klerk and Mandela were the first recipients.

In 1992, the two were awarded he Princess of Asturia Award for International Cooperation. This award began in 1981 as the Prince of Asturia Award but as the new heir to the Spanish throne is female, it is now known as the Princess of Asturia Award.

De Klerk’s father Johannes “Jan” de Klerk had been a nine-day interim president after the retirement of Jacobus Johanne Fouché in 1975. De Klerk was president of the Senate from 1969-1976 and had served in other governmental offices before that including Senator; Minister of Work and Public Works; Work and Mines; Home Affairs, Work and Immigration; Home Affairs, Education and Arts and Sciences; Education, Arts and Sciences and Information and National Education.

F.W. de Klerk’s father was part of the apartheid system.  He came to power with the National Party when the party came to power in the 1948 white-only elections on the apartheid platform.

Yet this de Klerk was Mandela’s vice president.

This documentary includes archival and historic footage along with interviews with the now 78-year-old de Klerk, Mandela’s successor Thabo Mbeki and South African Supreme Court Justice Richard Goldstone. Yet this is perhaps a soft sell, a first step in the right direction that reminds us that it took these two men together.

Yet a lot of background slips by. We don’t learn much about his brother, Willem who was a founding member of the Democratic Party. I wonder if Willem is still alive and how Willem felt about his brother and his politics.

This documentary  isn’t  much interested in F.W. de Klerk’s personal life. F.W. de Klerk has two sons and a daughter with his first wife, Marike Willemse.  That marriage ended after his infidelity with a married woman was discovered. After his divorce from Marike, de Klerk did marry the woman, Elita. Marike published an account of her marriage and its scandalous breakdown in 1998, “A Journey Through Summer and Winter.” Marike had a political career of her own but was murdered in 2001.

Even if we don’t look at the scandal, it would have been more informative to learn about personal views of de Klerk’s political workings. This was a political family with father, both sons and brothers and even the wife. Perhaps we still need more distance yet this is a missed opportunity to ask hard questions, about Nelson Mandela, his de Klerk’s father and is co-horts and what might have changed de Klerk’s mind about Mandela.

“The Other Man” is perhaps too even handed and too affable toward de Klerk, but with the absence of other documentaries on the other architect of the end of apartheid, this is a good beginning and an important documentary for those interested in the history of South Africa and its apartheid system.

“The Other Man: F.W. de Klerk and the End of Apartheid” opened up in New York on 6 February 2015 and is in limited release. You can learn more at the documentary’s Facebook page.




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