It is remarkable to observe that in the opening chapter of his postapartheid
memoir, The Last Trek (1998), F. W. de Klerk mentions part of his family’s
history “of which we did not speak.”1 Tracing his family’s origins to the ini-
tial wave of French Huguenots who immigrated to the Western Cape in the
late seventeenth century, de Klerk describes the role his family played in
the storied emergence of the Afrikaner community over the next two and
a half centuries, with one ancestor in particular, Hendrik Bibault, being
among the first to refer to himself as an “Afrikaander” in 1707.2 However, it
is Bibault’s half- sister, Susanna, who places de Klerk’s family in a different
historical light. Susanna was the illegitimate daughter of Detlef Bibault,
Hendrik’s father, and Diana of Bengal, a slave from India who arrived in
the Cape in 1667. Susanna went on to marry Wilhelm Odenthal in 1711, and
her daughter married de Klerk’s direct ancestor, Barend de Klerk. It is this
genealogical thread—with its suggestion of racially tainted origins—that
was kept a secret in the de Klerk family for generations.3
This kind of revelation is not unique within the Afrikaner community.
But neither is it inconsequential. Indeed, this story can be interpreted as
strategic, establishing de Klerk’s connections not only to the history of
the Afrikaner people, but also to the history of racially oppressed commu-
nities in South Africa. This personal retelling gestures toward a new kind
of postapartheid legitimacy, interweaving de Klerk’s family genealogy to
both sides of South Africa’s political struggle. This disclosure sharply con-
trasts with an often- cited public comment by his former wife, Marike de
Klerk, who famously referred to Coloured people as a “negative group,”
as “leftovers . . . after the nations were sorted out” without a common
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GenealoGies of colonialism
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