The Last Trek-A New Beginning: The Autobiography

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9780312223106: The Last Trek-A New Beginning: The Autobiography

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.

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Review:

On April 27, 1994, millions of South Africans stood in mile-long queues for hours to cast their votes in the country's first democratic election. F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid president, must have known his party would lose and that he was effectively handing the power of the volk to the African National Congress and its leader, Nelson Mandela. De Klerk's motivation for writing The Last Trek appears to be to show this surrender of power as the act of the country's "great reformer." The book is also an attempt to reassure the volk that this is not the end for them--merely a fresh challenge.

De Klerk was brought up as an Afrikaner nationalist and his view of the world was shaped by racism. He unapologetically tells how, as a young man, he was impressed with Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd's plans to create separate black homelands and was relieved when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. Throughout the time he was a nationalist parliament member, minister, and later president, de Klerk insists, he did not know about his government's reign of terror and its attendant massacres and death squads. (Though he was a "compassionate reformer" and lawyer, it seems unbelievable that he did not try harder to find out if the allegations were true.) He does apologize for apartheid crimes--but urges they should be seen in context of the cold war and his political background, as well as in comparison with other nations: a weak apology, indeed. The Last Trek offers interesting insights into de Klerk's mind, but its most interesting material may well be its description of how his relationship with Mandela deteriorated, leading to the collapse of the coalition government--an event that angered de Klerk's colleagues because it caused a rift in the party and eroded international confidence in multiracial government.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A strangely distanced, often stilted autobiography by the last white leader of South Africa. Like Mikhail Gorbachev, de Klerk is a fundamentally tragic figure: someone with the courage to abjure his most heartfelt inclinations and bravely lead his country forwardand himself straight out of power. There was little in his background to suggest he would be the man to end apartheid. He was an assiduous, ambitious National Party stalwart, reliably punching the clock in a variety of ministerial assignments, delivering competence but never controversy, slowly climbing the slippery pole of politics . . . and then he changed everything. Modern political autobiographies arent noted for their Rousseauian self-revelations, but de Klerk is particularly, even frustratingly opaque. While he provides a useful account of what happened, detailing the minutiae of the negotiating process leading to the creation of the ``new South Africa,'' he seldom shares the all-important ``why.'' Unsurprisingly, he claims no knowledge of any of the recently revealed darker activities of the apartheid military-security complex, many of which occurred while he was state president. Yet de Klerk doesnt shy away from discussing numerous times when he felt slighted or mistreated by Nelson Mandela, whom he depicts as engaging in especially brash and brutal politics (so different from the chummy confraternity of white rule) and also as much more bitter than the official hagiographic portrait. The end of apartheid may have been a moral struggle, but it was above all a grimy political process, and the most fascinating part of this account is the eggshell dance of adversaries, the shifting coalitions, the victories and defeats. Philosophically, perhaps even morally, de Klerk may have shifted, but he never turned from what is perhaps his truest identity: master political operator. Like South Africas gold deposits, a lot of the value here is buried deep. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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