Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said South Africa’s white community has not shown enough appreciation of the generosity shown to them by black South Africans.
Ex-President FW de Klerk said in turn that black citizens should be grateful to whites for surrendering power.
Archbishop Tutu headed the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which began work in April 1996.
In an interview with BBC News, he said the commission failed to engage the white community sufficiently.
He also expressed concern about social inequalities and levels of poverty in South Africa.
Archbishop Tutu was an icon of the struggle against apartheid and led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission through the pain of the healing process in the 1990s.
He said that under apartheid, black South Africans were the main victims of a political system from which the whites benefited greatly.
“By and large, the white community does not seem to have shown an appreciation for the incredible magnanimity of those who were the major victims of a system from which they [the whites] benefited so much,” Archbishop Tutu told the BBC’s Peter Biles.
The archbishop expressed concern over instances of “demeaning” poverty in South Africa today.
“I have warned, and I am not the only one who has, that we are sitting on a powder keg,” he said.
“It is the obligation of all of us to be trying to do something about it.”
On Sunday, Mr de Klerk admitted in an article in the Sunday Independent newspaper that white rule had been “morally indefensible”, but said whites had made sacrifices.
Mr de Klerk, who was president from 1989 to 1994, was South Africa’s last white head of state who opened the way to majority rule by releasing political prisoners and lifting the ban on the African National Congress and other organisations.
“Would it not be appropriate for black South Africans also to give more recognition to the contribution whites have made to the new South Africa?” he wrote in the Sunday Independent.
“It required considerable courage . . . to overcome their reasonable fears and put their trust in their erstwhile enemies,” Mr de Klerk wrote.
In another development, an apartheid-era general has released a report commissioned by Mr de Klerk on the involvement of the South African military in clandestine measures to destabilise the country in the early 1990s, the Sunday Independent reports.
The report by General Pierre Steyn is said to identify military and other figures who allegedly plotted violence aimed at hindering the transition to democracy.
Ten years after the Truth Commission began its work, Archbishop Tutu said one of its failings was not being able to engage the white community sufficiently.
A major shortcoming was not persuading senior figures such as former president PW Botha to take part.
The government has indicated that it may, in the near future, prosecute certain individuals who were not granted amnesty by the Truth Commission.
Archbishop Tutu said his concern was that once again it might be the foot soldiers and not the big fish that were targeted.