De Klerk was interviewed by CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour while at a recent summit of Nobel Laureates in Chicago. The interview was broadcast on CNN on Thursday night.
In a wide-ranging interview, in which De Klerk also discussed his relationship with former president Nelson Mandela and the current South African government, De Klerk said he had made a "profound apology" about the injustices wrought by apartheid in front of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and on other occasions.
"What I haven’t apologised for is the original concept of seeking to bring justice to all South Africans through the concept of nation states (essentially creating two separate states, one black and one white).
"But in South Africa it failed,” De Klerk said. “And by the end of the seventies, we had to realise, and accept and admit to ourselves that it had failed. And that is when fundamental reform started."
Amanpour asked De Klerk if apartheid failed because it was unworkable or because it was "morally repugnant".
He responded: "There are three reasons it failed. It failed because the whites wanted to keep too much land for themselves. It failed because we (whites and blacks) became economically integrated, and it failed because the majority of blacks said that is not how we want our rights."
De Klerk reaffirmed his belief in the validity of the concept of "separate but equal" nation states.
"There is this picture that apartheid was…used to be compared to Nazism. It's wrong, and on that, I don’t apologise for saying that what drove me as a young man, before I decided we need to embrace a new vision, was a quest to bring justice for black South Africans in a way which would not - that’s what I believed then - destroyed the justice to which my people were entitled.”
“That’s how I was brought up,” he said. "And it was in an era when also in America and elsewhere, and across the continent of Africa, there was still not this realisation that we are trampling upon the human rights of people. So I’m a convert.”
Amanpour again asked him if, in retrospect, apartheid was morally repugnant.
"I can only say in a qualified way. Inasmuch as it trampled human right, it was - and remains - and that I’ve said also publicly, morally reprehensible.
"But the concept of giving as the Czechs have it and the Slovaks have it, of saying that ethnic unities with one culture, with one language, can be happy and can fulfil their democratic aspirations in an own state, that is not repugnant."
He added: "With the advantage of hindsight, we should have started the reform much earlier…But the intention was to end at a point which would ensure justice for all. And the tipping point in my mind was when I realised… we need to abandon the concept of separateness. And we need to build a new nation with its eleven official languages, accommodating its diversity, but taking hands and moving forward together.”
'No animosity' with Mandela
De Klerk also said he and Mandela were "close friends" and that they call each other on birthdays and there was "no animosity left between us".
The Times reported that De Klerk's comments sparked outrage on social networking sites, especially Twitter.
"This man is insane!!! Now he says blacks weren't disenfranchised -- they voted in the homelands. Is FW De Klerk mad??!!" Eusebius McKaiser ? tweeted.
"I'm convinced that FW de Klerk is close to death, and is trying to preserve his legacy in the conservative Afrikaner community," said Mabine Seabe.
Given Mkhari tweeted: "FW de Klerk remains a bitter apartheid apologists and defender."
And comedian Nik Rabinowitz tweeted: "Watching FW de Klerk making gat of himself on CNN."
- Watch the CNN interview.