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De Klerk to be Junior League gala speaker

Former South African president F.W. de Klerk will speak at next year's Junior League of Toledo charity event.

Mr. de Klerk will be the guest speaker at the organization's 12th annual Toledo After Hours set for Jan. 25 at SeaGate Centre downtown. The league expects 1,500 guests to attend the black-tie gala that will include a private reception, dinner, and remarks by Mr. de Klerk.

“A lot of the people who were our sponsors last year ... were very interested in F.W. de Klerk. We gave them several options and that was really a consensus,” Becky Hartline, public relations chairman for the event, said. The sponsors include area business representatives, she said.

Mr. de Klerk is widely credited with initiating the end of bans on black liberal movements, the release of political prisoners, and the drafting of a democratic constitution in South Africa.

In 1993 he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with ANC leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela, whom he freed from 27 years in prison.

One local African-American leader criticized the visit from someone who has defended aparthied in the past.

“The Junior League, of course, is free to spend its considerable resources inviting de Klerk or any other racist,” Victor Goode, an African-American attorney with Advocates for Basic Legal Services and the chairman of the NAACP's legal redress committee, said.

“[Mr. De Klerk's] visit to Toledo may provide us an opportunity to talk about the issue of reparation to black folks in this country,” Mr. Goode said.

Jan Baker, the Junior League president, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. de Klerk's steadfast belief that you must “have courage, integrity, and honesty in order to turn a country around,” won him a Time Magazine's Man of the Year award, noted a news release distributed by the Junior League.

Mr. de Klerk was most recently an executive deputy president in South Africa's Government of National Unity under President Mandela. He resigned from politics in 1997 but two years later established a foundation in his own name. Its goal is “to continue the success and stability of the new multicultural South African democracy,” the news release said.

Toledo After Hours is a major fund-raiser of the league, which has returned nearly $1 million to the community since its inception in 1989, through donations and community projects.

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