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Ex-South African First Lady Marike de Klerk Murdered - 2001-12-05


South Africa's former first lady, Marike de Klerk has been murdered. The divorced wife of former President F.W. de Klerk was killed in her home at Blouberg near Cape Town.

South African police said Marike de Klerk was strangled and stabbed in the back. They said Mrs. de Klerk had been dead for 36 hours when her body was discovered by her hairdresser late Tuesday.

Police spokesman Wikus Holtshausen said that strangulation was the cause of death. "We did have the autopsy this morning," he said, "... and from that we could establish that Mrs. de Klerk was strangled, and that was the cause of death," he said.

Superintendent Holtshausen said there were no signs of forced entry into Mrs. de Klerk's home. He said it was undisturbed and that nothing appears to be missing. He said the motive for her murder is unknown and that investigations are continuing.

Marike de Klerk came into the public spotlight when her former husband, F.W. de Klerk, became president of South Africa in 1989. As a university-educated first lady, observers said she injected a fresh intelligence coupled with style and elegance into a position whose previous incumbents typified old fashioned, retiring Afrikaner women.

But even though Mrs. de Klerk headed the women's association of her husband's then-ruling National Party as it and the country moved away from apartheid, she was widely perceived as politically conservative. She publicly supported President de Klerk when he released Nelson Mandela and moved South Africa towards democracy, but reports persisted that she had little regard for Mr. Mandela and other black leaders.

When Mr. Mandela became South Africa's first post-apartheid president, Mrs. De Klerk was observed sitting glumly through his inauguration. Later, she was reported to be incensed when Mr. Mandela insisted on occupying the presidential residence in Pretoria, saying there were other suitable state homes for the new president and that as deputy president her husband might just as well remain in the home he had occupied as president.

The de Klerks were divorced in 1998 after 39 years of marriage and after Mr. de Klerk admitted adultery with the then-wife of a Greek millionaire whom he has since married.

Mrs. de Klerk was at first devastated at the public break-up of her marriage, but later recovered sufficiently to co-author two biographies with writer Marietta Martins who told state radio there was more to Mrs. de Klerk than her reserved public persona. "She had style and she was reserved as befitted such a professional woman. But to her friends she was full of fun, and she had a wacky sense of humor and was very bright, and really a person anybody would like to know," said Ms. Martins.

Among the tributes pouring in from across the country was one from South African President Thabo Mbeki, who said in statement that Marike de Klerk will be missed as a strong, charming and dignified woman. Her former husband F.W. de Klerk said he was shocked and saddened.