South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission will labor on despite the decision by former president Frederik de Klerk to remove his party from the process. Still, that decision is regrettable.

The commission's goal is to bring to light past injustices through grants of amnesty, and thus hasten progress toward a better, less racially divided future. As apartheid's steward for more than 40 years, Mr. De Klerk's National Party has, potentially, a key role to play in getting at the truth of that period.

But De Klerk and others in the now- struggling party felt the finger of blame was being pointed at them even before their story was told. The former head of state was particularly angry at comments by the commission's chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that questioned De Klerk's contention that he hadn't been aware of police torture and other abuses under apartheid. Tutu said he had personally informed then-president De Klerk of such abuses.

Meanwhile, many policemen who carried out repressions and tortures in apartheid's name have told their grisly stories in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Abuses by anti-apartheid groups, notably President Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, are part of the record as well.

South Africa has chosen to build its future on a frank confrontation with its past. Racial tensions, rooted in the country's history and exacerbated by today's vast economic gap between blacks and whites, remain sharp. In this context, wrongs honestly acknowledged are less likely to breed fresh resentment and conflict.

De Klerk appreciated that, or he never would have freed Mr. Mandela and started the momentum toward a new South Africa. We hope the man who helped change the course of history will find a way to remain a constructive part of what he began.

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