Cover image for The last trek-- a new beginning : the autobiography
The last trek-- a new beginning : the autobiography
De Klerk, F. W. (Frederik Willem)
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Physical Description:
xx, 412 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
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DT1970 .A3 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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An autobiography by the politician credited with dismantling apartheid in South Africa. The book explains what had motivated apartheid and how the system ended. It offers the author's thoughts on where South Africa is heading and what place the Afrikaner people might have in the new South Africa.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

De Klerk, South Africa's last president under apartheid, writes his personal history in the context of that nation's transition to a free multiracial society. De Klerk was primed for government service, following in the footsteps of his father, a government official and a staunch supporter of apartheid. De Klerk's political, cultural, and social roots were centered in the Afrikaners' belief in their racial superiority and the attendant need for separate homelands for indigenous Africans. Yet, De Klerk sees himself as a centrist, if not progressive on the race issue. He provides interesting insights regarding his political predecessors and associates: John Vorster, P. W. Botha, and Hendrik Verwoerd. Yet he shades his characterization of Nelson Mandela, whom he released from 27 years of imprisonment on political charges, in an ambivalent, if contradictory, light. Though political consensus was necessary to achieve one-man one-vote democracy in South Africa, De Klerk reflects an undertone of racial difference that stubbornly persists. Despite his personal contradictions, De Klerk provides valuable insights on one of the most pernicious political systems of the twentieth century. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

Although this memoir contains far more political blow-by-blow than personal revelation, it will reward close reading. De Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela in 1993, puts himself forward as a sincere but initially unimaginative fellow, a man who imbibed Afrikaner nationalism and couldn't even conceive of a South Africa without apartheid, which he presents as a product of his times. But most readers will quickly gather that de Klerk is spinning an alternate history: he claims that the apartheid government spent big sums to do justice to all South Africans, argues that sanctions delayed change more than hastened it and downplays police responsibility for the watershed Soweto riots. As a cabinet minister during the 1980s, de Klerk was not encouraged to question the security forces and even now distances himself from the murder and torture committed on his watch. As for the far-reaching reforms he proposed in 1990, including the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the African National Congress, de Klerk writes that they grew not from a conversion experience but from sober analysis. He wrings little drama from this magnificent, calculated gamble. In the book's second half, devoted to the ensuing negotiations about the shape of post-apartheid South Africa, de Klerk presents a highly negative portrait of Nelson Mandela, who criticized de Klerk regularly for the government contribution to the violence, even at the Nobel ceremony. De Klerk does convey that the saintly Mandela has his petty side, and that the ANC's revolutionary rhetoric has not served it well. But he will convince few with his contention that neither side during South Africa's epic conflict held moral superiority. He serves his legacy best when articulating his goals of better government and economic growth, and his hope that party politics will be based on values, not race. Photos. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

"Born into a family that had been closely involved in the whole historic development of the Afrikaner nation and its struggle for freedom," de Klerk has provided readers with a penetrating look into his life as a young attorney in Vereeniging, a local leader of the National Party, an MP, a member of Afrikaner Broederbond, a cabinet member, leader of the National Party in the Transvaal, leader of the House of Assembly, leader of the National Party, Acting President, State President, Executive Deputy President, sharer of the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, and opposition leader and retired statesman. Interestingly, de Klerk maintains that the National Party did not introduce apartheid to South Africa but "only applied it much more methodically and systematically"; he admits that fear of dominance by the overwhelming black majority was the policy's driving force. Overall, this is a thoughtful and engaging account of de Klerk's life and convictions and of the transformation of South Africa itself. De Klerk's autobiography is a valuable and stimulating contribution to South African history.ÄEdward G. McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast, Long Beach (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Roots If there was a beginning for me and my family to the long trek that led to that day in Pretoria on 10 May 1994, it may be found in a corner of the Netherlands in the late seventeenth century.     At the end of 1995 Marike and I were invited to visit Zeeland in the Netherlands. We were taken by the governor of the province to the little town of Serooskerke-on-Walcheren, a small Dutch community with an old red-brick church that could have been taken from a painting by Vermeer. Schoolchildren sang for us and the whole community made us feel specially welcome. We also visited the vestry where we were shown the church's seventeenth-century parish records in which there were several references to the De Klerk family. On one occasion two De Klerk brothers had become involved in such an intense dispute that they had been forbidden to take communion. In all my travels, my visit to Serooskerke has a special place for me because it was there that my ancestor, Abraham de Clercq, was born on 11 October 1671.     Abraham was the son of Pieter and Sara de Clercq whose own forefathers had fled to the Netherlands from France to escape religious persecution at the hands of French Catholics. Indeed, the Le Clercq family had played a prominent role in the French Protestant church and some Le Clercqs had been burnt at the stake as a result of their adherence to their beliefs.     Abraham was six when his father died and sixteen when his thirtysix-year-old mother Sara, his sister Jannetje and his brother Joos, set sail for the Cape aboard the Oosterland , a ship belonging to the Dutch East Indies Company. They were part of a group of some 280 French Protestants -- or Huguenots -- who decided to settle at the Cape in 1688, three years after religious freedom was curtailed in France by King Louis XIV's decision to revoke the Edict of Nantes.     One can imagine the sense of excitement -- and trepidation -- with which the De Clercq family embarked upon the three-month voyage to what must have seemed to have been the end of the earth. Sara was going with a clear purpose: she had been asked to marry another Huguenot, Guillaume du Toit, who had settled at the Cape two years earlier. They had met before Guillaume's departure and were married on 16 May 1688, less than a month after her arrival at the Cape.     Cape Town at that time was a tiny community of thatched cottages and white-washed buildings, huddled in an amphitheatre between the ramparts of Table Mountain and the sea. The town was clustered around a castle that the Dutch had built in 1666 to protect the trade route to their empire in the East Indies. Cape Town was founded in 1652 by an official of the Dutch East Indies Company, Jan van Riebeeck, as a rest and recuperation station for the Dutch trading fleets en route to and from the Indies. Its main purpose was the provision of fresh vegetables and water to the passing fleets. One of Van Riebeeck's first acts was to establish a garden for the cultivation of fruit and vegetables and a little dam to capture the water from the streams that tumbled down from Table Mountain, especially during the rainy winters. There was also a small hospital where the scurvy-ridden crews of the Dutch East Indies Company ships could recover before continuing on the second leg of their arduous journeys to or from the Netherlands.     The gardens established by Jan van Riebeeck still exist today as a beautiful park in the heart of Cape Town. Our parliament buildings -- where many of the events that are related in this book occurred -- are situated beside them. The offices of the president, where Nelson Mandela first met President Botha and where my first meeting with him took place, are still called the Tuynhuys -- the Garden House -- because they were originally built as a storehouse for the company's gardens. The remains of the storage dam now lie beneath one of Cape Town's modern shopping centres where my offices are now situated.     By the time the De Clercqs arrived in the Cape, settlers were beginning to leave the immediate vicinity of the castle and were establishing farms up to eighty or ninety kilometres into the interior. Guillaume du Toit was one of them. He had started a farm called Aan't Pad (on the road) at the little village of Stellenbosch, some fifty kilometres to the east of Cape Town. Apparently he was doing quite well, and it was to this farm that the De Clercqs moved after their arrival at the Cape.     Even so, life at the Cape must have been very hard. The Du Toits' residence probably consisted only of a few rooms with polished cowdung floors and reed ceilings. The surrounding countryside was still extremely wild. A Danish traveller, some eighteen years earlier, had described how he had had to climb into a tree beside the banks of a `great salty river' some four miles from the Cape to escape from wild animals. While he was in the tree he watched `huge lions and other animals fighting ferociously over a carcass on the other side of the river, roaring loudly enough to make a heart of steel tremble'. Today Salt River is an industrial suburb and railway centre almost in the heart of Cape Town, and the nearest wild lions are over 1,000 kilometres away.     Apart from the threat posed by wild animals, the early settlers also had to contend with raids by the Khoi (or Hottentots) and San people (or Bushmen) who had been the original inhabitants of the Cape. They resented the arrival of the strangers from across the great sea. The settlers brought smallpox. Their cattle presented tempting targets. The relationship was often bitter -- and increasingly the San were forced further and further into the interior. The Khoi people gravitated more toward the new settlements established by the settlers. They suffered the fate of many other indigenous peoples throughout the world at that time: servitude, disease and the loss of their land.     In May 1709 -- when he was thirty-eight -- Abraham de Clercq married Magdalena Mouton, the daughter of another Huguenot family. Little is known of their history, except that they appear to have been fruitful, but not prosperous. They had ten children, but little or no property. In 1734 the governor of the Cape, Jan de la Fontaine, took pity on them and granted them a farm at a place called Vogelvallij -- or Bird Valley -- about a hundred kilometres north of Cape Town. He is reported to have done so because of Abraham's `poverty and large family'. By that time Abraham was already sixty-three. He died eleven years later at the ripe old age -- for those days -- of seventy-four.     For the next two hundred years or so, the story of the De Klerks was the story of the emerging Afrikaner nation. Indeed, Hendrik Bibault, the half-brother of one of our ancestors, Susanna, was the first settler to call himself an Afrikaner -- or an African. When soldiers of the despotic Dutch governor, Wilhelm Adriaan van der Stel, threatened him, he shouted; ` Ik ben een Afrikaander .' (I am an African.) It was a seminal moment in the history of South Africa and was, perhaps, the first indication of the emergence of a new community with its own identity on the continent -- a predominantly Dutch-speaking community with its roots in Europe, but with its heart in Africa and its eyes set on an independent future as a nation in its own right in the vast and open spaces of the sub-continent.     It is, perhaps, also interesting to note that this same Susanna was the daughter of Diana of Bengal, an Indian slave who was sold to one Augustin Boccart in 1667. Nevertheless, Susanna was raised with her father's (Detlef Bibault) legitimate (and white) children by his Dutch wife Willemyntjie de Wit, apparently without any problem or discrimination. Susanna married Wilhelm Odenthal in 1711 and was the mother of Engela Odenthal, who married my direct ancestor, Barend de Klerk, on 7 April 1737.     This was part of my genealogy of which we did not speak -- and of which I did not know -- when I was a child.     What I did learn of was the role that the De Klerks had played in the history of our people. I learned about Theunis Christiaan de Klerk, who was one of five Dutch burghers who were hanged for treason after a failed rebellion against the British in 1815. The British occupied the Cape for six years in 1795 during the Napoleonic Wars. They finally took over the colony in 1805. The independent-minded Dutch settlers had found them even more objectionable than they had found the despotic Dutch East Indies Company. In 1815 a fracas between the burghers and the colonial government escalated into a mini rebellion. Five of the ring leaders, including Theunis Christiaan de Klerk, were sentenced to death. Theunis was allowed to attend the christening of his youngest child before he was hanged, and used the opportunity to write a very moving poem which ended with the following verse: I thank you Lord for all this good that You still do me every day. God has always done me good What my God does is always good. The five burghers were hanged at a place called Slagtersnek on the eastern frontier of the colony, but the executions were bungled when four of the five ropes broke. Slagtersnek joined the litany of the Afrikaners' growing bitterness toward the British.     Some twenty years after Slagtersnek the anti-British sentiment of the Dutch settlers had reached such proportions that a large part of the population decided to leave the Cape and migrate into the uncharted wilderness. Their migration has become known as the Great Trek.     Many De Klerks participated in the Trek. One of them, Lourens de Klerk, wrote a chronicle of the experiences of the Voortrekkers as they entered the hinterland of southern Africa. He recorded the hardships and disasters that they encountered, but also the pleasures and excitement of entering new lands and camping beside uncharted streams and mountains.     The De Klerk family was also well represented at another critical moment in the history of the Afrikaners. In 1837, the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief, led his column of ox-wagons over the mighty Drakensberg Mountains into the lush green valleys of Natal. In February, he went to the capital of the Zulu king, Dingane, to negotiate a treaty that would grant the settlers land rights in Dingane's kingdom. After the treaty was signed Dingane invited Retief's party of sixty-six men to join him in celebrations in his great kraal at Mgundgundlovu (which means the place of the Great She-elephant), a circle of hundreds of beehive huts surrounding a large parade ground. They were told that protocol required them to leave their weapons outside, while they enjoyed the singing and dancing of the Zulu warriors and maidens. Suddenly, in the midst of the festivities, Dingane shouted out, ` Bulalani Abathakathi! ', which means, `Kill the wizards!' Retief and his party -- which included three De Klerks -- were clubbed and stabbed to death and their corpses were dragged to a nearby hill where they were devoured by vultures. Afterwards, the Zulu regiments, known as impis , attacked the unsuspecting wagon trains where Piet Retief and his men had left their women and children. Ninety-seven men and women and 185 children were slaughtered along the banks of the Bloukrans and the Bushmans rivers. The Voortrekkers subsequently called one of the massacre sites ` Weenen ' -- or the place of weeping.     As a child, I was brought up on stories of Piet Retief and the treachery of Dingane; of the massacres of the Voortrekker women and children; of how Dirkie Uys, a fourteen-year-old boy, died defending his fallen father; of how the Voortrekkers swore a solemn oath, that if God gave them victory over the Zulus, they would build a church in His honour and remember the day as a sacred holiday for ever; of how the Voortrekkers then wrought vengeance on the Zulus at the battle of Blood River in 1838, so-called because the river flowed red with the blood of the Zulu warriors. There was not a single fatality among the 500 or so Voortrekkers.     The other stories on which I was weaned as a child dealt with our struggle against the British. I was taught how we had been forced to leave the Cape because of the repression of the British; of how we finally succeeded in establishing our own republics in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State; of how we managed to regain our independence after the First Freedom War in 1881, after the great victory of Majuba (which actually involved only a few hundred men); of how we subsequently lost our independence again after what we called the Second Freedom War and what the British referred to as the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).     The Anglo-Boer War burnt itself into the collective consciousness of my people, the Afrikaners, like no other event in our history. Perhaps, the experience of the southerners after the American Civil War comes close to the anguish that our people suffered. But it was worse. Like General Sherman, the British carried out a scorched earth policy that destroyed our farms and killed our livestock. Unlike him, they interned our women and children in what became known as concentration camps. According to Thomas Pakenham, in his epic work on the Boer War, `no one knows how many Boers -- men, women and children -- died in the concentration camps. Official estimates vary between 18,000 and 28,000' -- out of a total population of a few hundred thousand. When I grew up, there was hardly a family in our community that had not suffered some or other loss during the Anglo-Boer War. Many of the older people still had firsthand memories of the conflict.     I mention all these events because they are essential to any understanding of the influences that shaped my early attitudes and beliefs.     My own direct ancestors on my father's side did not participate in the Great Trek. By 1825, Johannes Cornelis de Klerk (Abraham's grandson) had moved to the Burgersdorp district of the Eastern Cape Province. The family acquired a beautiful farm called Spioenkop (Spy Hill) with a strong spring -- an important asset in the dry Karoo. My great-grandfather and his brother farmed there and lived in homes about a hundred yards from each other. Then they argued. The feud became so bitter that, there, in the great expanse of the Karoo, they built a fence between their homes. Despite the fact that they had no neighbours for miles around, they never spoke to one another again. Today they lie buried together at Spioenkop in the same small family cemetery.     The issue that divided them was religion. Throughout their history and wanderings in southern Africa, the Afrikaners had remained rigidly devoted to the Reformed faith of their forefathers. Those in the outlying districts often experienced great difficulty in obtaining the services of trained ministers -- or dominees -- to attend to their spiritual welfare. Their needs were met, in due course, by Scottish missionaries, whose Presbyterianism belonged to the same Calvinist religious family as their own Dutch Reformed Church. The foremost among these was the Reverend Andrew Murray, who is today revered among Afrikaners as one of the founders of the Dutch Reformed Church. However, some of the Scottish ministers introduced evangelical and methodist tendencies -- including the singing of hymns -- into the traditionally austere litanies of the Afrikaans congregations. This deeply disturbed many of the more conservative congregations in the eastern Cape. They had traditionally sung psalms and believed that many of the new hymns deviated from the written word of the Bible. They were also suspicious of the indirect influence that they believed the British colonial administration of the Cape enjoyed over the Dutch Reformed Church. Ultimately, in 1847 the Cape Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in Cape Town rejected the protests of the conservatives that the hymn book was idolatrous, which left them isolated, alienated and angry.     One of the leading conservatives was my great-grandfather, Barend de Klerk. He, and others who shared his convictions, sought the support of like-minded Christians in the Netherlands. In response to their call, the Reverend Dirk Postma of the Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands came to South Africa and helped the conservatives to found their own church. It was called the Reformed Church (as opposed to the Dutch Reformed Church) and became known among Afrikaners as the Dopper Church. Barend's brother remained a loyal member of the Dutch Reformed Church. It was over this issue that they fought and refused to speak to one another for the rest of their lives.     The nine congregations of the Reformed Church that existed by 1860 had a serious problem: they had only one minister, the Reverend Dirk Postma. There was an urgent need for the training of additional pastors for the growing Reformed flock. Accordingly, in May 1869 the General Synod of the newly founded church decided to establish a theological college at Burgersdorp. Its purpose would be to train ministers of religion and teachers in accordance with the doctrines of the Reformed Church.     By 1895 the Theological School of the Reformed Church of South Africa had twenty-four students, one of whom was my grandfather, Willem Johannes de Klerk. The subject to which they soon turned their attention was, however, not theology. It was the growing threat of war between the British Empire -- of which Burgersdorp was a reluctant part -- and the two Afrikaans republics to the north, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, which the Voortrekkers had established some forty years earlier.     The ostensible cause for the war was the refusal of the Transvaal Republic to grant unrestricted franchise to the thousands of white immigrants who had streamed to the Witwatersrand after the discovery of gold in 1888. In reality, the Boer Republics were a bothersome obstacle to the plans of British imperialists in London and the Cape to expand their influence northwards across the continent.     Naturally, the students at the Theological College sympathized with their fellow Afrikaners across the Orange and Vaal rivers. Many of them, including my grandfather, rushed to join the Boer forces -- particularly in the ambulance corps. My grandfather was captured at an early stage. As a British subject from the Cape Colony he faced a charge of treason. He might have been hanged, had the British not changed their policy. Instead, he was twice imprisoned because, as the British put it, he was one of those `who had not distinguished themselves by their loyalty to us'. On the second occasion he spent six months in the King William's Town jail in the Eastern Cape Province.     When not in prison he continued with his studies at the Theological College. The college was regarded, probably quite rightly, as a nest of pro-Boer sympathizers. The principal, Professor Cachet, was charged with high treason for having preached that God was with the Afrikaners and their cause was righteous. Ironically, pro-British Afrikaners from the Burgersdorp community were among his main accusers. The charges were later dropped.     In 1896 Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, had predicted that a war in South Africa would be one of the most serious wars that could possibly be waged. He said that it would be in the nature of a civil war and would be a long war, a bitter war and a costly war. He added that it `would leave behind it the embers of a strife which I believe generations would hardly be long enough to extinguish ...'     Chamberlain's prophecy in 1896 was right: the war was the most serious conflict in which the British were involved since the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. It did take on the character of a civil war -- and it did leave behind it embers of a strife which took generations to extinguish.     After his imprisonment by the British, my grandfather, Willem de Klerk, returned to the Burgersdorp Theological College, from which he graduated as a minister of religion in 1902. He later served as a minister for the Reformed congregations in Heidelberg, in the Transvaal, Aliwal North in the Cape and, in 1911, at Potchefstroom in the Transvaal. After Potchefstroom he served the Church in Johannesburg until his death in 1943, when I was seven years old.     In the intervening years he had retained his strong ties with the Theological College in Burgersdorp. In 1905 the college moved to Potchefstroom in the Western Transvaal. Potchefstroom was to play an important role in the history of my family and in my own life. It was founded on the banks of the Mooi River in 1838 by the Voortrekker leader, Andries Hendrik Potgieter. It was the oldest town in the Transvaal and was the capital of the young republic until 1854, when the seat of government moved to Pretoria. Later it developed as one of the main commercial and agricultural towns of the Western Transvaal and was also a prominent educational centre and the main centre of the Reformed Church. It was accordingly a natural choice for the new site of the Reformed Theological College. In 1919, after many years of struggle, the college was amalgamated with the Potchefstroom Gymnasium - or High School -- to form the Potchefstroom University College for Christian Higher Education. In the early fifties the college attained full university status.     My grandfather played a prominent role in the establishment of the University College and, while continuing his duties as a Reformed minister, became its first registrar -- or head of administration. He held the post until 1928 and served for many years on the council of the University College.     In 1910, after the Anglo-Boer War, the two British colonies in South Africa (Natal and the Cape Colony) and the two old Afrikaner republics (the Transvaal and the Orange Free State) came together to form the new Union of South Africa. Almost from the beginning there were sharp differences within the coalition that won the first general election. On the one hand there were those, including many Afrikaners led by General Louis Botha and General Jan Smuts, who wished to work for a united white nation of Afrikaners and English-speaking South Africans within the British Empire. They subsequently formed the South African Party. Opposed to them, there were those led by General Barry Hertzog, including my grandfather, who still cherished the ideals of Afrikaner nationalism. In 1914 they formed the National Party.     My grandfather had always had a keen interest in politics. In 1914 he became a founder member of the National Party. He stood in Potchefstroom as a National Party candidate for Parliament in 1915 -- and lost. In 1933, the South African Party under General Smuts and the National Party under General Hertzog agreed to form a coalition to deal with the national crisis created by the Great Depression. The following year the two parties formally merged to create the United Party. Many Afrikaners, led by the Cape leader, Dr D. F. Malan, felt betrayed and established a breakaway purified National Party. My grandfather supported them together with his son-in-law, Hans Strijdom, who later was to become prime minister of South Africa. In 1934 they signed a manifesto that called on Afrikaners `to strive for freedom until South Africa has been separated from the British Crown and Empire, to become a free republic -- the historical and most desired state and form of government for South Africa'. In 1938 -- when I was two years old -- he stood as a candidate for the Purified National Party in one of the constituencies in Johannesburg. Once again he lost.     The following year, the United Party government split over the issue of whether the Union of South Africa should declare war against Germany -- as General Smuts wanted -- or whether it should remain neutral -- as General Hertzog wanted. General Smuts fervently believed in South Africa's role as one of the dominions in the Great British Commonwealth of Nations. General Hertzog remembered the embers of bitterness against Britain that still smouldered in the hearts of his Afrikaans supporters. The cabinet and the Parliament chose war and General Hertzog led his followers out of the government.     These then were my roots. On 18 March 1936 I was born into a family that had been closely involved in the whole historic development of the Afrikaner nation and its struggle for freedom. My family had a long history of involvement in politics. My great-grandfather, Jan van Rooy (the father of my grandmother De Klerk), had served in the senate for the first five years after the establishment of the Union of South Africa. My grandfather on my mother's side, Frederik Willem Coetzer, after whom I had been named, had served for a full term in the Provincial Council of the Orange Free State. My grandfather, Willem de Klerk, was a deeply committed Afrikaner nationalist, and had twice stood unsuccessfully for Parliament. My uncle, Hans Strijdom, was a leading figure in the National Party and would later become prime minister. My own father, Jan de Klerk, had a long and distinguished political career, as a cabinet minister under three successive prime ministers and as president of the senate. Politics was in my blood.