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De Klerk speaks in Belfast about his 'friend' Margaret Thatcher

Former South African president FW de Clerk at Queen’s University in Belfast on Thursday night. Picture by Declan Roughan
 
Marie Louise McConville

THE former president of South Africa has paid tribute to his "friend" Margaret Thatcher hailing the "profound influence" she had on the course of British history, during a lecture in Belfast on Thursday night.

F W de Klerk, who was president of South Africa from 1989 until 1994, described the former British prime minister as a "great leader" as he delivered the second William J Clinton Annual Leadership Lecture at Queen’s University.

Having played a key role in dismantling apartheid in his country, Mr de Klerk also initiated and presided over the inclusive negotiations that led to the adoption of South Africa’s first fully democratic Constitution.

A year after he became president, he launched the democratic transformation of South Africa, announced the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and un-banned all political parties and organisations.

Before an audience of business, education and political representatives, Mr de Klerk spoke about his time as president and on the role of leadership in a rapidly changing world.

Mr de Klerk spoke of the task he was met with when he became president 26 years ago.

"The environment in which we found ourselves was disastrous," he said.

"We were facing international isolation and a growing downward spiral of conflict and repression".

Referencing Northern Ireland, Mr de Klerk said in any transformation, all sides must accept there can be "no solution based on armed force" and that all parties must be involved, citing President Bill Clinton’s move to include Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in the peace process, in the face of British anger.

He said parties must not allow extremists to stop progress and a move must be made to "put the bitterness of the past behind us".

Mr de Klerk also praised "great leaders" he had worked with in the past, highlighting former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Mrs Thatcher had famously refused to bow to international pressure to impose economic sanctions on South Africa during apartheid and made her opposition to the ANC plain when she claimed they were "terrorists".

Mr de Klerk praised what he said was Mrs Thatcher’s "free market middle-class conservatism (which) set the paradigm not only for British politics for decades to come, but changed democratic politics everywhere".

Citing South Africa’s sporting achievements, Mr de Klerk also praised the north’s golfing excellence, joking that it could soon overtake his country's record for producing more major tournament winners.

He concluded: "In politics, in business, in technology. Being able to steadfastly hold on to what you know is right, while adapting to new circumstances and challenges, puts you in control of your destiny".

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