JOHANNESBURG, May 11 (Reuters) - Comments from South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk, defending separate racial states during apartheid set off a storm of criticism on Friday from people still living with the legacy of decades of racial oppression.
Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday, De Klerk apologised for the racial policies of the white-minority government that oppressed the black majority, but defended separate states for blacks and whites.
“I have made the most profound apology... about the injustices which were wrought by apartheid,” he told Amanpour. “What I haven’t apologised for is the original concept of nation states.”
He was referring to the homeland system that once divided South Africa into states for different ethnic groups.
Thirteen percent of the land was reserved for blacks, who made up about 80 percent of the population, while whites held almost all of the rest. Apartheid laws also required blacks to hold permits to live and work in white areas.
De Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Nelson Mandela in 1993 but was later criticised by Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, for not renouncing apartheid.
“To justify apartheid in 2012? Wow!” Gugulethethu Mthembu wrote on Twitter.
Others challenged de Klerk, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for releasing Mandela in 1990 and allowing multi-racial elections four years later, to make such remarks in Soweto, the largest of South Africa’s black townships.
“Can FW de Klerk come home and repeat those words he said on Amanpour in front of a live audience in Soweto,” Florence Masebe tweeted. Others called on him to return his Nobel prize.
In the interview, De Klerk said apartheid was “morally repugnant” and added that, with hindsight, his party should have instituted reforms earlier.
Even though it has been 18 years since apartheid ended, it remains the source of deep division in the “Rainbow Nation”.
According to Statistics South Africa, 29 percent of blacks are unemployed compared with 5.9 percent of whites, while IHS Global Insight, an economic consultancy, estimates that whites have an average income nearly seven times that of blacks. (Editing by Jon Herskovitz)