De Klerk apologises for the past

PRESIDENT F W de Klerk apologised for the first time yesterday for the sins of apartheid, a politically charged gesture shifting him away from the right-wing camp and giving moral substance to his oft-proclaimed committment to a new South Africa free of racial intolerance.

'It was not our intention to deprive people of their rights and to cause misery, but eventually separate development and apartheid led to just that. In so far as that occurred, we deeply regret it,' Mr de Klerk said at a news conference in Cape Town.

'Deep regret goes much further that just saying you are sorry,' he added. 'Deep regret says that if I could turn the clock back and if I could do anything about it, I would have liked to have avoided it. Yes, we say we are sorry.'

He cited as particularly reprehensible the impact of racial laws impeding free movement around the country and allowing the police forcibly to remove blacks from their ancestral land. Apartheid, he said, 'effectively took away freedom from people on the basis of race, it impaired the dignity of people, it impaired people's development'.

He repeated his earlier arguments for refusing to apologise, however, claiming that the National Party's early leaders had not been vicious men but had been driven by the notion that 'separate development' was for the good of all South Africans.