President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday slammed remarks made by South Africa's last apartheid-era leader, F.W. De Klerk, saying it was "treasonous" to deny race segregation was a crime against humanity.
Ramaphosa, answering questions in parliament, broke public silence on De Klerk's comments, which the former president withdrew following an outcry.
"Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It was a crime against the oppressed people of South Africa even before it was so declared by the UN," Ramaphosa told parliament to loud applause.
"I would even go on to say that to deny this in my view is treasonous."
De Klerk, 83, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela in 1993 for dismantling white-minority rule and ushering in democracy.
But, in an interview last week on the national broadcaster SABC, he sparked fury by denying that apartheid was a crime against humanity, despite the UN declaring it such.
"The idea that apartheid was a crime against humanity was and remains an agitprop project initiated by the Soviets and their ANC/SACP allies to stigmatise white South Africans by associating them with genuine crimes against humanity," he said.
The ANC is the ruling African National Congress which under Mandela fought an underground battle against apartheid.
The SACP was its ally at the time, South African Communist Party.
De Klerk's remarks culminated in lawmakers from the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) staging a rowdy protest in parliament at the annual State of the Union address last week, demanding he be ejected from the legislature.
On Monday, De Klerk retracted the remarks and apologised for the "confusion, anger and hurt that it has caused."
Under apartheid, rule by the white minority was entrenched by law and brutally enforced by agents of the state.
Black South Africans faced denial of fundamental rights and discrimination in many forms.
Today, despite the end of apartheid a generation ago, racial tensions in South Africa remain high and economic inequality and poverty run deep.