JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Black and white leaders of 90 of South Africa's Christian churches, concluding their first conference in nearly 30 years, joined Friday to reject apartheid as a sin and confess their own role in fostering segregation.
The action was largely a symbolic gesture because each of the participating denominations, including the Dutch Reformed Church, has made similar statements individually in recent years.
The white branch of the Dutch Reformed Church, whose 1.5 million members represent nearly 40% of all white South Africans, for years played an important role in justifying the ruling National Party's racial segregation policies.
But, in a historic declaration in 1986, it acknowledged that apartheid is a mistake and that racism is a sin.
The final communique from the weeklong church conference in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, also recommended that the government remove all apartheid laws, establish a transitional government, return land taken from blacks and arrange an affirmative action program for blacks.
The Rev. Pieter Potgieter, leader of the Dutch Reformed Church delegation, said his church accepted "the great majority of the very lovely sentiments" in the final communique. But he added that his group could not endorse the political recommendations, some of which the government strongly opposes, without consulting church members.
"It is not for us to prescribe particular solutions to the government or anybody else," he said.
Although the Dutch Reformed Church is the largest Afrikaner church, President Frederik W. de Klerk and several key members of his Cabinet belong to a much smaller and more politically liberal Afrikaner denomination, the Reformed Church. That denomination formally declared apartheid a sin 25 years ago.
Meanwhile, police said Friday that 17 people have been killed in a fresh spasm of political violence among black factions in South African townships, 16 of them Thursday night in a battle in Natal province between supporters of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and backers of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.