FW de Klerk, showing a keen awareness of his tarnished legacy, delivered a posthumous video message apologising for apartheid, released just hours after his death Thursday.
"I am often accused by critics that I in some way or another continued to justify apartheid or separate development, as we later preferred to call it," he said in the message released by his foundation.
"It is true that in my younger years I defended separate development," De Klerk said.
"Afterwards, on many occasions, I apologised to the South African public for the pain and indignity that apartheid has brought to people of colour in South Africa. Many believed me but others didn't."
"I without qualification apologise for the pain and hurt and the indignity and the damage that apartheid has done to black, brown and Indians in SA," he said.
De Klerk said he made the apology both in his personal capacity and as the former leader of the National Party, which instituted the violent apartheid system of segregation.
De Klerk died early Thursday at age 85 after a battle with cancer.
Hailed as a peacemaker alongside Nelson Mandela in the 1990s, in recent years he came to be seen as an apologist for the regime, symbolising the failures of white South Africa to own up to the horrors of the past.