The nation’s flags fall to half staff today as South Africa begins a four-day official mourning period for its last white leader F.W. de Klerk.
President Cyril Ramaphosa calls this a mark of respect for a predecessor.
A State memorial service for de Klerk will be held a date to be determined.
The former president’s family has opted to have the 86-year-old cremated after a small funeral service for family on Sunday.
It is a wise decision given the mixed feelings expressed since de Klerk died of lung cancer last Thursday.
There are those who say he does not deserve any honour because of his active involvement in the apartheid system.
His unqualified apology, recorded near his demise, to those hurt by apartheid would indicate that he was regretful about this.
His critics say he released Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and unbanned the African National Congress and other political parties because he had to.
No-one has suggested that de Klerk acted altruistically at the time.
He realised, as previous leaders of the National Party must have done, that the system was untenable.
By the time he took the helm of the ruling party, the Soviet empire had fallen and the game was up for the apartheid system that was only allowed to survive as a Cold War bastion against Soviet imperialism at the foot of Africa.
In short, his was a classic piece of pragmatism.
If one is to castigate a politician for pragmatism, there would be virtually no public representatives – proud exponents of the art of the possible – left to admire.
De Klerk’s move was indisputably a courageous one. It spelled the end for himself as leader and his party as the instance of power.
Happily, this was realized by leaders at home and abroad.
It was why he got to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela.
That the overwhelming majority of black South Africans retain a sense of suspicion, not to say bitterness, is hardly surprising.
Where would one hear open appreciation of any system universally and rightly denounced as a crime against humanity?
However De Klerk’s role in dealing a fatal blow to that system is self evident.
The ANC is right: “De Klerk’s legacy is a big one. It is also an uneven one, something South Africans are called to reckon with at this moment.”
The sooner we get around to this, the better we will be able to move on.