For years, South Africa's last white president opined on post-apartheid rule without getting much attention in a country anxious to shed its racist past. Now F.W. de Klerk is being vilified for remarks about the legacy of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes.
The furor stems from criticism by de Klerk of a campaign to take down a statue of Rhodes at Britain's Oxford University, echoing protests that led to the removal of a Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. De Klerk said in a letter to the British newspaper The Times that the campaign against Rhodes was "folly" because few historical figures associated with Oxford could withstand today's standards of "political correctness."
Students cheer as the statue of Cecil John Rhodes is removed from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa, April 9, 2015.
In a message to de Klerk on Monday, Oxford activists said he exhibited "white arrogance" for comments on Rhodes, described by historians as a segregationist who made a fortune at the expense of the local population in southern Africa. Rhodes is also known as a philanthropist who lent his name to the prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
"Don't get it twisted: the only reason you didn't remove statues of Rhodes in South Africa was because you were committed to white domination, not because you cared about black people," read the posting on the Facebook page of the group "Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford."
Also, a small but vocal South African opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, said de Klerk was unworthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, which he was awarded jointly with Nelson Mandela in 1993 for their work to dismantle white minority rule.
The party said a public statue of de Klerk should be sent to a museum about the apartheid era. Bronze statues of de Klerk, Mandela and two other Nobel laureates from South Africa stand on the Cape Town waterfront.