Frederik Willem de Klerk has cancer.
According to a statement on the de Klerk Foundation’s website, the former South African president and Nobel Prize winner has been diagnosed with mesothelioma – a cancer that affects the tissue that lines the lungs.
The foundation said that de Klerk, who also turned 85-years-old on Thursday, would begin immunotherapy next week, adding “there is no immediate threat and we are confident that the treatment will be successful.”
In October 2020, de Klerk’s son, Willem, died from cancer.
Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.
South Africa has rich reserves of asbestos, which was mined during the 19th century and during apartheid. South Africa was the third-largest exporter of asbestos in the world for more than a century. Former residents of asbestos mining regions suffer, and continue to suffer, the effects of the asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos was banned from use in 2008. It was prized for its heatproof and fireproof qualities and was used to build homes during apartheid.
De Klerk was elected as president under South Africa’s apartheid era in 1989.
In 1992 he oversaw the referendum in which 68% of white South Africans voted in favour of bringing an end to apartheid.
De Klerk remained in office until 1994, when Nelson Mandela, who de Klerk released from prison in 1990, was inaugurated as democratic South Africa’s first president.