The Moral Courage of F.W. de Klerk
On February 2, 1990, the people of South Africa gathered to watch their recently elected president’s address to parliament. The annual event, equivalent to the US President’s State of the Union Address, is delivered every year in Cape Town. The people of South Africa and the world waited in anticipation, expecting that president F.W. de Klerk would announce the release of Nelson Mandela, the hero of the anti-apartheid movement. But the day would not turn out the way those who gathered expected. As expected, Nelson Mandela would be freed after 27 years in prison. What was not expected was that Mandela, by his own choice ...view middle of the document...
Certainly it takes courage to risk one’s life freefalling through the stratosphere, but it would be hard to argue there was a moral component of the act.
By contrast, moral courage is always principle-driven (Kidder 10) . It is courage in the name of core values such as honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, or justice. It is a willingness to face not only physical and emotional pain in the name of a core value, but also the mental pain associated with loss of stature, respect, community, health, or wealth. Kidder defines physical courage as the intersection of danger and endurance, but moral courage as the intersection of danger, endurance, and principles (10).
To Kidder’s definition of moral courage, I would add the category of exceptional moral courage. Exceptional moral courage is the willingness to go beyond simply standing up for what is moral. The distinguishing factor identifying exceptional moral courage is the willingness to “go against one’s tribe”. When a slave to stands up for freedom, or a member of a persecuted group stands up for equal rights, or a poor person fights for income equality, the act may require moral courage. But for the exceptional, they must reverse their natural direction, realize that what they are doing is morally wrong and stand up for what is right despite what their families, their peers, their country, or their “tribe” believes.
To understand why FW deKlerk’s actions could be classified as exceptional moral courage, we must first understand the history of white settlement and apartheid in South Africa, and the history of the deKlerk family.
The first white settlers came to South Africa with the Dutch East India Company in 1652. The settlement was originally formed as a fort and garden to supply ships travelling around the Cape of Good Hope. By 1662, 250 colonists lived in or around the Cape Colony, most of which were of German, Dutch, and French Hugenot heritage. As these colonists and farmers began to push north and east, they both traded and warred with the local tribal populations. By the late 1700’s many of these colonists had lost their identification with Europe, and began to identify as Afrikaners ("A Short History of South Africa.").
In 1867, a “pretty pebble” found near the Orange River turned out to be a 21-carat diamond, and in 1869 an 83-carat diamond was found in the same area. By 1870 a full-fledged diamond rush was on and by 1872 there were over 12,000 men working the diamond pipes in Kimberley. Fear that workers were stealing diamonds from the mines led mine owners to pass the Diamond Trade Act which allowed for “searching houses” where company police would strip and search employees as they left the mines. Strikes by miners led to relaxed surveillance for whites, but not for blacks. The logical extension of this policy was segregated, controlled, fenced-off compounds to house Africans for the length of their work contracts with the company, but not for...