Defend Truth


The Nobel Committee will not revoke FW de Klerk’s Peace Prize: Aung San Suu Kyi is the precedent


Professor Dr Omphemetse S Sibanda is a Professor of Law and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Management and Law at the University of Limpopo. He holds a Doctor of Laws (in International Economic Law) from North West University, a Master of Laws from Georgetown University Law Centre, US; and an LLB (Hon) and B Juris from the then Vista University, Soweto Campus.

The FW de Klerk controversy has reignited calls for his Nobel Peace Prize to be withdrawn. It’s a waste of time – let’s rather focus on the prosecution of those found liable for apartheid crimes by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It was very easy to finally get FW de Klerk and his FW de Klerk Foundation to apologise and admit that apartheid has long been declared a crime against humanity in international law. Not that they did not know. They were trying to salvage what is left of their nostalgic apartheid tendencies.

Unfortunately – and I must say unfortunately – it is never going to happen that Sweden (Stockholm) will listen to the South African voices to withdraw De Klerk’s Nobel Prize, which is awarded in Oslo, Norway, on the grounds that he conducted himself in a manner unworthy of a Nobel Laureate by saying apartheid was never a crime against humanity. The following are my reasons why:

The Nobel Prize Foundation runs a tight ship and has never allowed a reversal of its decision. As it stands, one may not in any event appeal “against the decision of a prize-awarding body with regard to the award of a prize”, according to the Statutes of the Nobel foundation. The indications are clear that the Nobel Prize Foundation, the Swedish government and the Norwegian Nobel Committee are not prepared to open themselves up by setting a precedent of withdrawing prize awards.

For example, an online petition to strip Aung San Suu Kyi of her Peace Prize over the killing and torture by Myanmar of Rohingya Muslims gained about 386,000 supporters but failed to sway the Nobel Prize Committee. The Aung San Suu Kyi petition at the time was groundbreaking, as “none of the prize-awarding committees in Stockholm and Oslo has ever considered revoking a prize after it has been awarded”, said Olav Njolstad, head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. It was only stated that her failure to keep the peace in her country after the Nobel Prize was awarded was regrettable. Similarly, it is regrettable that De Klerk voiced support for the murderous apartheid regime after the Nobel Prize was awarded to him.

 Let us say the EFF and the South African public go ahead with the petition: the current lack of legal and political will in South Africa to prosecute those who did not get amnesty at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will be the enemy of success of this petition to a foreign jurisdiction. The failure of the South African government to implement punitive measures and prosecute individuals to date post-TRC is building an impression that even the post-1994 democratic government of South Africa does not seriously consider the bane of apartheid. If our own government is not serious about ensuring accountability for apartheid crimes, why should anybody or any other government care?

We must be signing a petition for the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa to continue where all his predecessors failed and complete the execution of the TRC mandate. According to the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, the TRC had an obligation to investigate: 

  • gross violations of human rights, including violations which were part of a systematic pattern of abuse; 
  • the nature, causes and extent of gross violations of human rights;
  • the question whether such violations were the result of deliberate planning; and 
  • accountability, political or otherwise, for any such violation. Stripping naked the former deputy president of the Republic of South Africa under the government of his co-Nobel Laureate is a form of enforcement of accountability. But can we start here at home as a way of showing that we are indeed not absolving any of the apartheid kingpins and actors of accountability and liability?

Furthermore, the October 2016 decision of the ANC-led government to withdraw South Africa from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the very same ICC that carries a provision describing apartheid as a crime against humanity, is one of those regrettable decisions that weakens any test case from South Africa to overturn the Nobel Prize decision. The embarrassing part is that the very same person who was intended to benefit from the withdrawal of the ICC, former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, will soon be handed to the ICC by the new Sudanese government for genocide and crimes against humanity. Our government portrayed a bad image of itself when, under the guise of Head of State Immunity, it came across as caring less about victims of genocide and other crimes against humanity. 

Sweden’s assassinated former Prime Minister, Olof Palme, once made a passionate plea to the Swedish People’s Parliament in support of the outlawing of apartheid. However, the country’s lack of resolve to ratify the apartheid convention gives no hope that it will take away the Nobel Prize from FW de Klerk. The text of the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (commonly referred to as the Apartheid Convention) came into force in 1976 after 20 countries had ratified it.

Sweden, as the country that offered the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, was not one of the signatories and neither was the US, with the most Nobel Laureates to date. Currently, the Convention has 31 signatories and 109 parties, and still the US and Sweden are not signatories. It is notable, furthermore, that the US voted against the UN General Assembly Resolution endorsing the Convention on the non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in 1968 while Sweden abstained. The reference to the US is critical because in, my view, it having so many Nobel Laureates means that it is likely to support a refusal to withdraw FW de Klerk’s Nobel Prize. In fact, just like FW de Klerk, the US post-1994 still held a position before the UN that it does not accept the view that apartheid is a crime against humanity.

There is no need to flog the rider of the caged horse in the form of FW de Klerk and his foundation. Let his conscience and his legacy keep him awake every night for reopening the apartheid wound. If it makes De Klerk and members of the FW de Klerk Foundation sleep better at night to insist that humanity is only deserving of whites and Europeans, just let them be. He was being true to what he represents and to the supporters of the same view held by the likes of DF Malan, Hendrik Verwoerd and the then South African Bureau for Racial Affairs (SABRA) which in the 1930s created a plan for the separate development of races.

History will be and continues to be a burden on him, and his supporters. So is this controversy going to go down in history as having vindicated those who argued against him being awarded the Nobel Prize because he is not of the “same calibre, depth or significance” as Nelson Mandela who should have been the sole recipient of the prize?

For now, let’s turn the De Klerk petition into a petition for the current government to immediately start the prosecution of apartheid’s foot mercenaries and criminals. DM


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