September 22 2006 at 08:33AM
Former South African president FW de Klerk has acknowledged that as an apartheid-era cabinet minister, he failed to follow up on suspicions that the country’s security forces were committing human rights abuses.
He told the author of a new biography of Desmond Tutu to be published in September: “Where maybe I failed was not asking more questions, not going on a crusade about things… following up on a slight uncomfortableness you feel here and there… I was at times maybe not strong enough on following up on my instincts.” (p365-366)
In the book on Tutu, Rabble-Rouser for Peace, De Klerk repeated past denials that he had ever authorised human rights abuses.
But the author, John Allen, said De Klerk’s admission was new: “I am not aware he has previously acknowledged that he had suspicions of what the security forces were doing, or admitted that he had failed by not following them up.”
Allen’s book also quotes Britain’s former ambassador to South Africa, Robin Renwick, as saying that after De Klerk became president, during the transition to democracy of the early 90s, he “did know that mayhem was going on” as a result of the activities of the security forces.
Renwick told Allen in an interview that De Klerk’s mistake had been that “he has never been prepared to say as bluntly as he should have done that he was by no means properly in control” of the security forces. (p326) Other revelations in the biography are:
- Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Oliver Tambo were among South Africans other than Tutu who were short-listed for the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize (p210-211);
- When Albert Luthuli went to Oslo in 1961 to be awarded the Peace Prize, he told the Norwegians ahead of receiving the prize that the ANC had already decided to embark upon an armed struggle (it was launched six days later) [p209];
- Tutu enlisted the help of former foreign minister Pik Botha for help in trying to keep his son, Trevor, out of prison after Trevor was sentenced to prison for making threats at airports (p273);
- Tutu told the former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, that “I am ashamed to be an Anglican” after the world’s Anglican bishops rejected a proposal to reconsider the church’s attitude towards gays and lesbians. (p373)
- Tutu criticised Carey’s successor, Rowan Williams, for being too accommodating of conservative Anglican leaders working for the expulsion of North American Anglicans tolerant of homosexuality. If the conservatives did not like the Anglican Communion’s inclusiveness, Tutu told Allen, “then (they) have the freedom to leave”.
Allen, managing editor of the African news website AllAfrica.com, has reported on and worked with Tutu for 30 years. He met Tutu shortly after the Soweto uprising of 1976, when he was appointed religion correspondent of The Star. After Tutu was appointed archbishop of Cape Town, Allen was appointed his Press secretary, and later served as director of media liaison at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and as Tutu’s research assistant at Emory University, Atlanta, US.
From 2000 to 2004, Allen was director of communications at Trinity Church, Wall Street, in New York. He returned to South Africa in 2004 to write the biography.