Ethical controversy forces de Klerk to decline honor
By Emily Gold
After two months of controversy surrounding his receipt of aYale Law School fellowship, former South African President F.W. de Klerk decided to end the uproar himself. De Klerk wrote to Law School Dean Anthony Kronman, "I have decided that it would not be appropriate for me to accept the Harper Fellowship at this stage, unless I can be assured that my visit to Yale will take place entirely within the spirit of the original invitation." Kronman accepted his decision.
Last spring, the law school had decided to honor de Klerk with the Harper Fellowship. The fellowship is extended to people who have "made a distinguished contribution to the public life of the nation."
Few questioned the decision when it was made. In January, however, students formed the Coalition of Concerned Students to protest awarding de Klerk the fellowship after a South African investigation found many possible ethical problems in his government.
"The decision was made prior to recent statements and revelations by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding De Klerk's obstruction of its inquiries and his accountability for post-1990 activities," stated the Coalition's position paper. "This honor should be revoked."
In March, Kronman called de Klerk to inform him of the protests surrounding his upcoming visit. De Klerk responded on Thurs., Mar. 13, by declining the fellowship, although he stated that he disagreed with the protesters.
"It would appear the the students charge me with having been the leader of a
`violent, racist white government' and that I lied to the Truth and
Many Yalies agreed that de Klerk should not receive the fellowship. "We shouldn't honor de Klerk until the findings of the Commission come out, and it becomes clear exactly what he did," said Gabe Sayer, ES '98, who is taking a class in South African politics.
The Coalition of Concerned Students points out that "freedom of speech was never an issue," according to Jonathan Klaaren, GRD '01. "Were no honor involved, we would not oppose his visit."
Some students did question the idea that de Klerk should not have received the honor. "The findings [of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee] are irrelevant. He voluntarily gave up the power of the white minority in South Africa and led South Africa to multi-racial democracy," said Matthew Berry, LAW '97. Back to News...