South Africa's last segregationist president, FW de Klerk, occupied a "historic but difficult space", Archbishop Desmond Tutu's office said in a statement Thursday.
Tutu led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) charged with uncovering the horrors of the white-minority regime.
De Klerk appeared before the commission but never made a full account of the torture and killings committed by his apartheid government.
"The former president occupied a historic but difficult space in South Africa," Tutu's office said.
After de Klerk's appearance at the TRC, "the Archbishop addressed the media to express disappointment that the former president had not made a more wholesome apology on behalf of the National Party to the nation for the evils of apartheid," it said.
"But in more recent years, the Tutus and de Klerk's developed closer relations."
"The late FW De Klerk played an important role in South Africa's history," it added.
"At a time when not all of his colleagues saw the future trajectory of the country unfolding in the same way, he recognised the moment for change and demonstrated the will to act on it."
Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his resistance to apartheid.
Despite being a key figure in ending apartheid, De Klerk came under fire for refusing to admit that apartheid was a crime against humanity after just issuing an apology for the harmful effects of the system.
Many black people felt his apology was half-hearted.
His death has divided South Africans with some paying tributes while others celebrating his demise.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he and the government were saddened over the death of De Klerk, who had played a "key role in ushering in democracy" in the country.
"He was a leader of a party that was largely discredited in relation to the role that the National Party played in enforcing apartheid. But he had the courage to step away from the path... And we will remember him for that."
"The policies that the apartheid regime espoused and implemented have caused a lot of havoc on millions and millions of South Africans. And it was the havoc that many of our people will never forget, and have suffered from."
"But as a human being, it is important for us as South Africans to pay our condolences and to allow him to go and rest... our hearts are with the declared family."
De Klerk, ruled South Africa between 1989 and 1994, handed over the reins to Nelson Mandela after the first democratic elections in 1994.
"De Klerk will forever be linked to Nelson Mandela in the annals of South African history. As head of state, he oversaw the release of Madiba from prison on 11 February 1990," the Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement.
"In 1993 they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize for ushering in a negotiated settlement that led to South Africa holding its first democratic election in 1994."
"De Klerk's legacy is a big one. It is also an uneven one, something South Africans are called to reckon with in this moment."
Malema and EFF
Firebrand Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema posted cryptic messages on Twitter suggesting he was celebrating the death of De Klerk.
He posted emoji of people dancing with a message “Thank you God,” before publishing a video of his party celebrating while captioning it, “Mood.”
His party released a statement saying: "De Klerk, who denied that the legislated separate development, exploitation, torture and murder of Black people was a crime of humanity, dies with no honour, and with the dark cloud of having maimed and traumatised families across our nation."
"He was a president of an undemocratic and racist society... who led on the basis of the political and economic disenfranchisement of the majority Black population of South Africa."
The leader of Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen said: "Mr de Klerk’s contribution to South Africa’s transition to democracy cannot be overstated. His decision... to unban liberation movements, release Nelson Mandela from prison, lift the ban on political marches and begin the four-year negotiation process towards our first democratic election was a watershed moment in our country’s history."
"Importantly, he was also able to bring the majority of white voters along with him, and this played a critical role in ensuring that the transition happened peacefully and that the 1994 elections, as well as the constitutional negotiations, were embraced by all South Africans."
Other South Africans
"Granted, the time he was president and the actions that he did take part (in) to become a president are bad, very bad, sinful. It was the mass genocide of black people and as a human being you can't agree with that," said Sihle Jwara, a student in the commercial hub of Johannesburg.
"But at the same time you have to look at the actions that he did take to change the country."
Another Johannesburg resident, Pusiletso Makofane, 30, said: "Honestly, I feel no remorse, even though a politician died. I feel like his death helps South Africa move forward in a way, away from all the criticism, the negativity, the racism. So I feel like it moved us in a way."
“If FW de Klerk gets a state funeral… That will be a huge middle finger to the people who suffered under the apartheid regime in this country. In fact, we must disrupt that funeral if it’s declared a state funeral. There’s just no way,” said prominent actress and television personality Pearl Thusi.
Former British Prime Minister John Major said: "FW de Klerk was a man who realised that apartheid was morally and politically wrong, and acted to bring it to an end ... He deserves to be remembered as a brave politician who helped change the future of his country for the better."
"I am saddened to hear of the death of FW de Klerk. He demonstrated great courage to end apartheid and, through his partnership with the iconic figure of Nelson Mandela, played a pivotal role in bringing democracy to South Africa," said Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"The path was never smooth but his legacy is immense. My condolences to his family."
De Klerk died at his home in Cape Town Thursday at age 85, after a battle with cancer.