Apartheid-era president FW de Klerk has announced through his foundation, that he has been diagnosed with cancer.
In a short statement issued on Thursday, 18 March 2021, which was the former president’s 85th birthday, the foundation said De Klerk has mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by asbestos and most commonly occurring in the lining of the lungs or abdomen.
FW de Klerk, who is apartheid’s last president before the country went into a democracy in 1994, will begin immunotherapy in a week, and the foundation has said it is confident the treatment will be successful.
“Former President FW de Klerk announced at his 85th birthday that he has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a cancer that affects the tissue that lines the lungs. Mr De Klerk will start a course of immunotherapy next week. There is no immediate threat and we are confident that the treatment will be successful”
The news of de Klerk’s cancer comes just months after the former president’s son, Willem, lost his battle, also to the disease. He was 53 years-old.
He has had his fair share of controversy though. In 2020, de Klerk came under fire for saying that while apartheid cannot be justified, it should not be classified as a crime against humanity.
“I don’t fully agree with that. I’m not justifying apartheid in any way…I apologised for that, profusely apologised for that, but there’s a difference between calling something a crime. Genocide is a crime, apartheid cannot be, that’s why I’m saying this,” de Klerk said in an interview with the SABC.
“It cannot be compared with genocide. There was never a genocide under apartheid. Many people died, but more people died because of black-on-black violence than because of apartheid”
According to the Mayo Clinic, mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly form of cancer. While there is treatment available, there is no cure. It can take 20 to 60 years or more for mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure.
“Most people with asbestos exposure never develop mesothelioma. This indicates that other factors may be involved in determining whether someone gets mesothelioma. For instance, you could inherit a predisposition to cancer or some other condition could increase your risk,” it said.