JOHANNESBURG, Apr 30 (Reuters) South Africa's last apartheid president, F.W. de Klerk, urged blacks today to recognise the sacrifices made by whites in embracing all-race democracy and the courage they showed in ceding power.
De Klerk was responding to comments by anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu who said this week that 10 years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed, white South Africans did not fully appreciate the sacrifices made by black victims in forgiving past wrongs.
Writing in a Sunday newspaper, De Klerk repeated his apology to the victims of apartheid and said white-rule was ''morally indefensible'', but denied his government was a ''criminal regime'' and said whites made sacrifices too.
''Would it not be appropriate for black South Africans also to give more recognition to the contribution whites have made to the new South Africa?'' he wrote in the Sunday Independent.
''It required considerable courage for ... whites ... to overcome their reasonable fears and put their trust in their erstwhile enemies.'' De Klerk said that Afrikaners -- the white descendents of Dutch and French settlers -- had sacrificed centuries of struggle for self-determination to help create a democratic South Africa.
De Klerk, who turned 70 last month, shocked the world in February 1990 by announcing the release of apartheid resistance hero Nelson Mandela from 27 years as a political prisoner, putting South Africa on an historic path to all-race elections in 1994.
He fought bitter battles with Mandela in the run-up to the poll but the pair shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Price and Mandela paid tribute to his former foe last month for steering the country from the brink of a bloody racial war.
South Africa is often hailed as a model of forgiveness thanks in part to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where those who confessed publicly to apartheid crimes were granted amnesty. But Tutu said this week black victims were let down by the government's failure to bring many perpetrators to justice.
De Klerk, the last president of the National Party that instituted apartheid, retired from politics in 1997.
REUTERS CH PM1558