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May 16th, 2010

Dr. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, former leader of the opposition in the South African parliament — a political role model with whom I worked nearly 30 years ago in efforts to dismantle apartheid — has died.

Kwêla bring hulde aan Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert
Dr. Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert (1940-2010)

White South African Anti-Apartheid Activist Dies

By Donna Bryson

May 14, 2010

JOHANNESBURG — Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, who helped South Africa chart a peaceful way out of apartheid by leading fellow whites into talks with exiled black leaders, died Friday. He was 70.

The Institute for Democracy in Africa, known as Idasa, announced his death.

In the announcement, the think tank Van Zyl Slabbert founded to organize meetings between whites and blacks in apartheid South Africa called him a “visionary son of Africa.”

Van Zyl Slabbert had been hospitalized recently with an undisclosed illness. Njabulo Ndebele, Idasa’s board chairman, said he did not know the cause of death.

Van Zyl Slabbert was the rugby playing son of conservative Afrikaners, the descendants of early Dutch settlers known for their commitment to apartheid.

“He went against the grain, broke ranks, but established new alliances and friendships that transcended the old divisions,” Ndebele said. “He was a remarkable South African who had a sharp and sensitive intelligence and a tremendous sense of humor.”

The office of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, released a tribute calling Van Zyl Slabbert “a leader who had the vision and foresight to recognize that our national interest was to be found in our common humanity.”

In 1987, Van Zyl Slabbert led a delegation of white South Africans to Senegal to meet the African National Congress — which was banned in South Africa at the time, but now is the governing party.

The white government labeled Van Zyl Slabbert’s group traitors. In a statement Friday, President Jacob Zuma said Van Zyl Slabbert showed “courage and foresight” by going to Senegal.

In his definitive book on South Africa’s transformation, journalist Allister Sparks says the Senegal meetings proved that South African factions had enough common ground to find a peaceful solution to their country’s crisis.

The opposition Democratic Alliance said Friday that Van Zyl Slabbert played a “leading role in opposing apartheid and facilitating South Africa’s transition to democracy.”

Van Zyl Slabbert represented the liberal Progressive Federal Party, a predecessor to the Democratic Alliance, in parliament during the apartheid years. He resigned as party leader and left parliament in 1985, during a crackdown on black activists, saying the whites-only legislature was no longer relevant.

In 1986, he and Alex Boraine formed Idasa, which then stood for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa. Today, Idasa lobbies to strengthen democracy across the continent.

Van Zyl Slabbert is survived by his wife, Jane, and children Tania and Riko.


Reports from South African media

The Times

Obituary: Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert — Afrikaner revolutionary
(The Times, May 15, 2010)

PREPARING FOR PARLIAMENT: Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert led the opposition PFP from 1979 to 1986 Picture: TERRY SHEAN
Photo: Terry Shean / The Times

Van Zyl Slabbert dies (The Times, May 14, 2010)

Van Zyl Slabbert tributes continue to pour in
(The Times, May 14, 2010)


Related report on this site

Farewell Helen, You Were My Hero (January 2, 2009)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — May 16, 2009

Image: Anti-abortion activists march in Washington
Pro-life activists participate in the annual “March for Life” event Jan. 22, 2009 in Washington. (Photo credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images file)

Americans ‘Pro-Life’ on Abortion

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that for the first time in 15 years, a majority of Americans called themselves “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice” on the issue of abortion. Meanwhile, Iraq has lost more than half of the 1.4 million Christians who once called it home, mostly since the war began, and few who fled have plans to return.

In this May 13, 2009, photo Christians pray outside a church in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood. Iraq has lost more than half of the Christians that once called it home, mostly since the war began, and few who fled the chaos have plans to ever return, an examination by The Associated Press has uncovered. (Photo credit: Loay Hameed / AP)

2 Responses to “Passing of a Visionary Leader”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Michele Bachmann: Eyes on the Prez Says:

    […] Passing of a Visionary Leader […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Nelson Mandela at 93 Says:

    […] Passing of a Visionary Leader (May 16, 2010) […]

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