Frederik Willem de Klerk, the former President of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 who oversaw the country’s transition from apartheid, has died aged 85.

De Klerk was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs – in March of this year, and was undergoing an immunotherapy treatment to battle the illness.

In a statement, the spokesperson for the FW de Klerk Foundation confirmed that the ex-president had died this morning.

“It’s with deepest sorrow that we announce the passing of former President FW de Klerk at Fresnaye, after a long battle against mesothelioma.

Elita his wife, Jan and Susan, as well as several grandchildren, survived the president. 

De Klerk secured his place in history by announcing Mandela’s release after 27 years imprisonment and lifting the ban on black liberation movements. This effectively declared the end of white-minority rule.

“I hope history will recognize that together with all my supporters, I have displayed courage, integrity and honesty in the moment when truth was revealed.” De Klerk stated that we made the right decision.

Frederik Willem de Klerk, the former President of South Africa from 1989 to 1994 who oversaw the country's transition from apartheid, has died aged 85 (de Klerk pictured in 2018)

Frederik Willem de Klerk (pictured in 2018), was the ex-President of South Africa between 1989 and 1994. He oversaw South Africa’s transformation from apartheid.

Former president FW de Klerk and his wife Elita Georgiades at the FW de Klerk Foundation conference in Johannesburg, South Africa (July 25, 2012)

Elita Georgdes and FW de Klerk, former president of South Africa, at the FW de Klerk Foundation conference held in Johannesburg (July 25, 2012.)

In this file photo taken on September 26, 1992, African National Congress president Nelson Mandela (R) greets State President of South Africa Frederik Willem de Klerk (L) shortly after arriving at the world trade centre for their summit on ways to prevent political violence

File photo of Nelson Mandela, President African National Congress (R), greeting Frederik Willemde Klerk, South Africa’s State President (L), shortly after arriving at The World Trade Centre for the summit to discuss ways to stop political violence

De Klerk was born in Johannesburg on March 18, 1936. His father was a well-known politician, and he was keen to continue his father’s legacy.

After receiving a degree in law from Potchefstroom University, he established an enviable law firm that served as his springboard to current affairs and politics.

In 1972, he was elected as an independent member of South Africa’s National Party to the Parliament. He quickly became a star in his field, overseeing many departments such as mines, energy, planning and internal affairs.

In 1986, he was elected to the House of Assembly. After Pieter Willem Botha, the sitting president, fell ill early 1989, De Klerk was made the President of South Africa, on September 14.

De Klerk was quick to organize South Africa’s move away from white minorities into democracy. 

Former president and leader of the National Party F. W. de Klerk, discusses his resignation, below a mural of the new South African flag, at a National Party Caucus meeting in Cape Town, Aug. 26 1997

F. W. de Klerk is the former leader and president of National Party. He discusses his resignation at a National Party Caucus meeting, Cape Town, August 26 1997.

De Klerk announced in 1990 he announced he was releasing anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela just five months year after he became president. He and Mandela jointly received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their collaborative efforts to usher in non-racial democracy in the country (pictured: Mandela (L) and De Klerk (R) at the reception of the peace prize in Oslo, Norway, 1993)

De Klerk made the announcement in 1990 that he would release Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid leader and five months after he had been elected president. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 together with Mandela for their efforts in bringing about non-racial democracy. (pictured: Mandela and De Klerk at Oslo’s 1993 reception of the Peace Prize in Norway.

FW de Klerk (R) and Nelson Mandela (L) pose with their Nobel Peace Prize Gold Medal and Diploma, in Oslo, Dec. 10, 1993. F.W. de Klerk, who oversaw end of South Africa's country's white minority rule, has died aged 85 it was announced today

Nelson Mandela (L), and FW De Klerk, (R), are seen with the Nobel Peace Prize Gold Medal, Diploma and Certificate, Oslo, December 10, 1993. F.W. F.W.

De Klerk began immediately to accelerate and strengthen the previous constitutional reforms. Despite strong opposition from Conservative Party, he was clear from the start about his intention to end apartheid.  

In February 1990, De Klerk declared that he would free Nelson Mandela (an anti-apartheid leader) and other political prisoners. This announcement was made just five months before he became President. It led to multiparty elections in 1994 which paved the path for democracy in South Africa.

Mandela and De Klerk shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. They were recognized for their collaboration in helping to bring non-racial democracy into the country.