The main church of ruling Afrikaners has declared apartheid a sin and asked forgiveness for its long support of the racially discriminatory system.

"We confess with humility and sorrow the participation of our church in the introduction and legitimation of the ideology of apartheid and the subsequent suffering of people," said the white Dutch Reformed Church.The black and mixed-race Dutch Reformed Churches welcomed the most explicit condemnation of apartheid made by their white mother church but said it also must work to destroy the system it helped create.

President P.W. Botha and virtually his entire Cabinet are among congregants of the repenting church, which probably is Afrikanerdom's strongest single unifying factor.

There was no immediate reaction from the government to the church's declaration or to a government-appointed commission's report Saturday that called for voting rights for the black majority and an end to all apartheid laws.