De Klerk, the last President of Apartheid South Africa and key figure in the country’s shift to democracy, has died in his home in Fresnaye, Cape Town.

Former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer earlier this year and lost his battle with it on the 11th of November. “FW de Klerk died peacefully at his home in Fresnaye earlier this morning following his struggle against mesothelioma cancer,” the FW de Klerk Foundation said in a statement on the 11th. The Nobel Peace Prize recipient shared the award with Nelson Mandela and was a key figure in ending the white-minority rule in South Africa.

He announced the reforms that marked the end of apartheid in the countries parliament in 1990, with some of the reforms including the freeing of political prisoners like Nelson Mandela and lifted a ban on anti-apartheid organisations. This was met with gasps from the members of the chamber. Then, in 1992, de Klerk held a whites-only referendum on ending apartheid, with the result being an overwhelming “yes” vote to continue negotiations to end apartheid. 2 years later, Nelson Mandela would be elected as the first black South African president as native South Africans were allowed to vote for the first time.

According to the Al Jazeera correspondent Fahmida Miller, Mandela and de Klerk’s relationship was one of “great mutual respect”. De Klerk kept this relationship for most of the rest of their lives and de Klerk would later become a member of the African National Congress, the political party that lead the anti-apartheid movement and the former political party of Mandela. However, many young people in South Africa look back at de Klerk as nothing less than an apartheid criminal. They claim that due to the constant internal sanctions, violence, and protests within the country, at that time he had no choice but to end apartheid. Miller reported, ”FW de Klerk won’t necessarily be missed by many people but he’s acknowledged for the role he played in terms of the democratic transition. However, there are also people today who say he never paid for what he was responsible for.”

De Klerk has a very contested legacy in South Africa, and his death has reignited that contention. Born in Johannesburg in a very wealthy area of the city, de Klerk was born into a family of Afrikaners, a white ethnic group descended from mainly Dutch colonisers. De Klerk’s father was a leading apartheid senator and former Interim President. He held many ministerial positions whilst running for the National Party who instituted apartheid to begin with. He became President in 1989 until he was succeeded by Nelson Mandela in 1994.

Many critics are sceptical of his intentions, sourcing his failure to curb political violence in the lead up to the first democratic elections and the fact he was apart of the party that founded apartheid to begin with as a justification that he didn't care too much about the native populations of South Africa. Because of this and his old roots in the apartheid system, critics are recommending that he should not be given a state funeral. Mandela, however, disagreed. Before his death in 2013, Mandela had praised de Klerk for his courage in dismantling the systems that brought him to power and, in his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”, Mandela wrote “To make peace with an enemy, one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner.”.

In 2016, de Klerk invited more criticism when he accused then-president Jacob Zuma of only caring about his own personal interests. And then again last year when, in an interview with the BBC, he claimed that he did not believe apartheid was a crime against humanity. The backlash of this claim included him having to withdraw from a seminar where he was scheduled to speak on minority rights and racism. Despite his controversies, de Klerk was clearly an intelligent man filled with determination and was greatly admired by those who knew him.

Dr. Robert Blanton of the University of Alabama stated that de Klerk’s "political choices were undergirded by self-confidence and commitment to the common good.". His older brother Willem, stated that de Klerk's demeanour was marked by "soberness, humility and calm" and that he was “an honest, intelligent, and open minded individual”. He also stated that “he keeps an ear to the ground and is sensitive to the slightest tremors", and that it was this which made him "a superb politician, and should always be remembered as such".