On this day in 1990, President F. W. de Klerk of South Africa, citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an inspiration for the changes he has begun in his own country, arrived in Washington for talks with President George H.W. Bush.
After four decades in which Washington has kept South Africa at arm’s length because of apartheid, Mr. de Klerk stepped off his South African Airways jet into a red-carpet reception at Andrews Air Force Base.
Mr. de Klerk, who was invited to Washington in February by President Bush after he released the black South African leader, Nelson Mandela, from prison and began negotiations to end white minority rule, clearly relished the moment.
”I am deeply aware of the historical importance of this visit,” Mr. de Klerk said to the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Herman J. Cohen, who headed the American welcoming party. ”South Africa has embarked on a great journey. It is a journey towards full democracy at home and abroad, full participation in the family of nations. It is a journey that I sincerely believe will bring the fruits of both justice and economic well-being to every South African family.”
”In a few moments, we will begin our visit to Washington at the Reflecting Pool,” said Mr. de Klerk, referring to the ceremony where he was formally welcomed by Secretary of State James A. Baker 3d. ”It is there where the reflections of the great monuments to Washington and Lincoln come together. And it was there that many thousands of Americans heard the Rev. Martin Luther King describe his dream for an America of justice and harmony through nonviolence.
When Mr.de Klerk referred to the ”family of nations,” it was no idle oratorical flourish. To be welcomed at the White House on Monday, with the South African flag waving next to the Stars and Stripes, will be for him and other white South Africans the ultimate sign that their country is finally breaking out of its pariah status.
It was striking that moments after Mr. de Klerk’s plane landed, almost all of the South African Airways flight attendants gathered around one of the United States Marine honor guards and asked him to pose for a picture with them next to the aircraft, which he gladly did. The flight was the airline’s first to land in the United States since Congress banned air links with South Africa as part of the 1986 anti-apartheid sanctions.
Although the small official welcoming party that met Mr. de Klerk was in marked contrast to the tumultuous ticker-tape parades that greeted his negotiating partner, Mr. Mandela, the African National Congress leader, last June, it did not diminish the South African leader’s evident satisfaction. He is the first South African head of Government to visit the United States since 1945.
”The words and deeds of Presidents Washington, Lincoln and Dr. King still ring out to us all,” continued Mr. de Klerk, 54, who at the time of Dr. King’s civil rights activities in the 1960s was an enthusiastic advocate of apartheid. ”Inscribed in stone above Lincoln’s statue are the great words, ‘With malice towards none, with charity for all, let us do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’ These are words which also describe our efforts today in South Africa.”
Mr. de Klerk’s reference to Dr. King and his famous 1963 speech, one of the most inspiring of the civil rights movement, was seen as offensive by some American black leaders.
Randall Robinson, executive director of the African-American lobby TransAfrica, argued that Dr. King ”died in a lifelong effort to perfect American democracy,” while ”South African blacks are fighting to establish the very essentials of a democratic system against a white minority, including de Klerk, that has insisted on the retention of its privileges.”
During his talks in Washington, the South African leader is expected to receive mixed messages from the White House and Congress.
Credit: New York Times
OTHER EVENTS OF INTEREST ON THIS DAY
1885: Five German warships depart to Zanzibar.
1965: Saudi Arabian & Egyptian accord over Yemen.
1973: Guinea-Bissau declares independence from Portugal.
1979: Ghana adopts constitution.
2018: Ebola virus has caused 69 deaths and sickened 150 people according to the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo.