He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for their efforts to abolish apartheid and was named among TIME magazine's "Men of the Year" for his endeavor in promoting peace.
F.W. de Klerk, the seventh and last state president of South Africa, was welcomed by a standing ovation at Kregse Auditorium when he took the podium as the seventh Nobel laureate to deliver an Ubben Lecture.
"Thank you for the warm welcome," he began.
Then de Klerk spoke to the near-packed auditorium about how Africa overcame racial segregation and the challenges it faces as a nation since the end of apartheid.
"Africa has made great strides," he said, "but there are still major challenges ahead."
Apartheid was a policy introduced following the general election of 1948 and enforced by the National Party until 1994. Under it, the rights of majority black inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and minority rule by whites was maintained.
The new legislation classified South Africa inhabitants into segregated groups -- black, white, coloured and Indian. From 1958, blacks were deprived of their citizenship. The government segregated education, medical care and other public services and provided blacks with inferior services to those of whites.
After the resignation of President P.W. Botha in August 1989, de Klerk became acting state president and was inaugurated on Sept. 20, 1989. He called for a non-racist South Africa and began negotiations that resulted in all citizens, including the black majority, having equal voting and other rights.
"There was no hope for the future," he said of Africa. "But events changed completely in 1990."
During his term, de Klerk gave orders to roll back South Africa's nuclear weapons program, and the country's nuclear disarmament was essentially completed a year later.
The Nobel laureate said fundamental change cannot happen until failure is acknowledged. When that happens, make a new vision and plan.
He left the crowed with these ideas:
* Make a genuine commitment to negotiations of change.
"You're doomed to failure if not," de Klerk said.
* Abandon stereotypes of your opponent.
"They aren't as bad as you imagined," he said.
* Build on common ground. Find common interest.
* Timing really is everything.
"When a window of opportunity opens, jump through it," de Klerk said.
After South Africa's free elections in 1994, de Klerk became vice president in the government of national unity under Mandela -- a man he released after 27 years in prison -- a post he kept until 1996. A year later he gave over the leadership of the National Party and retreated from politics.
In 1999, de Klerk published his autobiography "The Last Trek: A New Beginning" and established the F.W. de Klerk Foundation, which is dedicated to the promotion of peace in multi-communal societies.
de Klerk has been awarded the 1992 Prix du Courage Internationale, the Prize for Political Courage; and was the co-recipient along with Mandela of the Philadelphia Peace Prize in July 1993.
"All human relations require constant and careful attention," he said. "When we stop changing, we stop growing. When we stop growing, we start to die."