WORLD

‘The end of an era’

De Klerk vows to repeal apartheid laws

NDREW BILSKI February 11 1991
WORLD

‘The end of an era’

De Klerk vows to repeal apartheid laws

NDREW BILSKI February 11 1991

‘The end of an era’

SOUTH AFRICft

De Klerk vows to repeal apartheid laws

Amid shouts of “hangman of the Afrikaner” and “traitor to the nation,” enraged members of South Africa’s opposition Conservative Party stormed out of parliament in Cape Town on Friday. The object of their scorn was reformist President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk, who had just pledged to strike down the country’s last remaining apartheid laws “within months.” After order was restored, de Klerk continued, saying that he wants his National Party-dominated parliament to repeal long-standing discriminatory legislation that classifies citizens according to race, segregates neighborhoods and reserves most farmland for whites. But even as the historic announcement angered extremists within the white-minority community, it clearly did not go far enough for many blacks. Outside the parliament, and in cities and townships across the country, hundreds of thousands of black protesters marched to demand further change. “We still do not have the vote,” declared veteran African National Congress (ANC) leader Walter Sisulu at a Cape Town rally. “And this is what our people demand today, to vote for a constituent assembly.”

Still, de Klerk’s address, delivered just one day short of the first anniversary of his announcements legalizing black opposition groups and the release from prison of ANC leader Nelson Mandela, was stunning in its scope. By June, blacks could have all the legal rights—except for the vote—that whites currently enjoy, an accomplishment that de Klerk said “will bring us to the end of an era.” He also proposed transitional arrangements to give leaders of disenfranchised parties a direct voice in policy-making. While rejecting ANC demands for an interim government and an elected constituent assembly to draft a nonracial constitution, de Klerk said that the time had come for a multiparty conference to plot a course to democracy.

Those promises drew encouraging responses from Western leaders, who said that they would now consider lifting economic sanctions against South Africa. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said that such a move might come after a meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers in London scheduled for later this year. Mulroney also said that he was “very pleased” with de Klerk’s “visionary leadership,” and that he had telephoned the South African lead-

er to tell him so. But Mandela said that sanctions should still be maintained against the country until democracy is achieved.

Even as de Klerk announced the sweeping reforms, he made it clear that the government could not hand over power until a new constitution was in place. And in a direct reference to the protests under way outside

a remnant of Nationalist ideology. While accepting anti-apartheid calls for a single education system, de Klerk said that there must also be provision for what he termed “distinctive or autogenous” education—in other words, rightwing whites would still be able to have racially exclusive schools.

De Klerk’s far-reaching announcement nearly eclipsed another important event earlier in the week. On Jan. 29 in Durban, Mandela and his chief black rival, Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, exchanged handshakes and hugs in their first face-to-face meeting in 28 years. In what Mandela called “a breakthrough,” they emerged from their eight-hour parley to announce a peace pact in Natal province, where township violence between ANC supporters and members of Buthelezi’s Inkatha party has claimed more than 4,000 lives over the past five years—and effectively blocked efforts to

parliament, he warned the ANC and other antiapartheid groups that “mass-action campaigns resulting in disruptions, confrontation and damage to the economy could seriously delay or undermine political progress.” That would be a “great evil,” de Klerk said, warning that continued opposition would result in undefined “stronger measures.”

Although the speech marked a radical departure from the National Party’s apartheid past, analysts noted that de Klerk’s words included echoes of white resistance to total change. The president’s hard line on mass action, set against the backdrop of the ANC’s declaration of 1991 as “the year of mass action,” was one such echo. Another was his reference to group or community rights. Critics have often denounced that concept as apartheid in disguise, and they have rejected it as even a discussion point in the upcoming constitutional debate. And on the subject of education, there was also

forge a united black approach to constitutional negotiations. Despite the symbolic reconciliation, however, factional violence erupted less than 36 hours later, resulting in at least eight deaths.

Still, many observers said that they were encouraged by the week’s stunning developments. In Cape Town, where large crowds of black and white passers-by gathered in front of televisions in store windows to hear de Klerk declare apartheid dead, the mood was optimistic. “It’s about time he did this,” said 37-yearold ANC supporter Georgie Afrika. “Hell, man, it’s great, but I really didn’t think he could do it two years in a row.” He was referring to de Klerk’s 1990 legalization of banned political groups and the release of Mandela, and he added: “I’m even beginning to like this guy.”

ANDREW BILSKI

CHRIS ERASMUS