CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — DIFFERENCES have surfaced in the ruling National Party over the issue of apologizing to the victims of apartheid for the human suffering, death, and dislocation of family life caused by four decades of racial segregation.
Three years after President Frederik de Klerk committed his government to eradicating apartheid and negotiating a new democratic order, he and the National Party have yet to make an unqualified apology acknowledging the human rights violations of the past four decades.
"I believe it's a deeply personal matter ... and it depends on the individual," said Manpower Minister Leon Wessels, who became the first member of Mr. De Klerk's Cabinet to make an unequivocal apology for apartheid in 1990.
"But the fact that the state president and the National Party are staying away from the issue sometimes causes me heartache," said Mr. Wessels, who confessed in 1990 that: "I was so hard of hearing when my fellow countrymen were crying and laughing."
"I still passionately believe in that statement," Wessels told the Monitor Friday.
Wessels repeated his original apology in Parliament in February 1991, but none of his Cabinet colleagues have followed his example either in tone or content.
An apology for apartheid offered by Cape Province National Party leader Dawie de Villiers last year at the interracial negotiations forum, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, was conditional and assumed that the intentions of apartheid's architects were noble.
The apology issue surfaced behind the scenes in the National Party leadership last week during the opening of what has been billed as the last session of the white-dominated Parliament as it prepares to draft and adopt legislation for a transition to nonracial democracy.
The week, which saw both breakthroughs and setbacks in the negotiation process, was marked by inner turmoil in major political parties including defections within both the ruling party and the African National Congress (ANC).
The ambivalence of the National Party toward past wrongs was also evident in its controversial Draft Charter of Fundamental Rights which was published last week.
ACCORDING to human rights lawyers, the charter - while signaling a break with the past - still attempts to qualify basic rights like freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the inviolability of a person's home in a way that promotes the concept of group rights and tilts toward the state.
The debate on the apology, regarded as a fundamental issue by church and anti-apartheid leaders, was fueled by remarks made by De Klerk when he replied to a week of parliamentary debate Friday.
The president was responding to a speech by David Dalling, an independent white legislator who represents the ANC in the whites-only Assembly. Mr. Dalling had described the late Hendrik Verwoerd, the chief architect of apartheid and a former prime minister, as "evil."
De Klerk, who has on several occasions made qualified apologies for the human suffering caused by apartheid but insisted that the policy was well-intentioned, described Verwoerd and his two nationalist predecessors as men of "great personal integrity" who had "acted in what they believed to be the public interest."
ANC and anti-apartheid leaders were outraged by the statement because they argue that the underlying intention of the founding fathers of apartheid was to design a system of perpetual white domination which they mistakenly believed was the only formula for self-preservation.
Wessels, who has kept his silence for more than two years, also was upset.
"If one looks at the dispensation of the past, one can come to only one conclusion," Wessels told the Monitor.
"No matter how well-intentioned the noble men of integrity who started it were, the dispensation could not be defended on moral grounds."
Wessels has been praised repeatedly by church leaders and ANC officials for his sincerity and humility and for setting an example to his colleagues.
He also has been praised by black trade unionists for his policy initiatives in the Department of Manpower, where he has been responsible for drafting far-reaching measures that would extend union rights to farm workers and domestic workers.
Wessels has assembled teams of experts which are representative of the full political spectrum and include some of the government's most outspoken and credible critics.
Speaking earlier Friday at a news briefing on far-reaching policy reforms in his department, Wessels said: "I firmly believe that we will not be able to live the future unless we have a clear understanding and fully comprehend what has happened in this country.
"I don't believe we will be successful in building a future constitutional dispensation - a new society based on the principles of democracy embedded in fundamental human rights - unless we have a clear understanding of the fact that a previous dispensation was undemocratic and violated human rights," he said.