The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
  • South Africa Report
  • Time Line

  •  

    Abolition of Apartheid Acts Planned

    By David B. Ottaway
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, February 2, 1991; Page A01

    CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA, FEB. 1 -- President Frederik W. de Klerk, proclaiming the final dismantling of "the cornerstones of apartheid," announced plans today to repeal laws that have guaranteed white ownership of 87 percent of the land and entrenched rigid segregation of the races.

    De Klerk told the opening of parliament that he would soon submit legislation canceling the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936, the Group Areas Act of 1966, which segregates residential areas, and "all other stipulations that determine rights concerning land according to membership of population groups."

    While these reforms were widely expected, de Klerk further declared that the government had decided to repeal the Population Registration Act of 1950, which separates South Africans into four racial categories of whites, blacks, Indians and mixed-race Coloreds.

    If parliament approves these proposals, he said, "the South African statute book will be devoid within months of the remnants of racially discriminatory legislation which have become known as the cornerstones of apartheid," the white government's system of racial separation. Parliament, controlled by the ruling National Party, is expected to approve the promised legislation.

    De Klerk's speech was interrupted by jeers and cries of "traitor" from white opposition Conservative Party members. Some were forcefully ejected, which prompted a walkout by the remainder of the 41 party members.

    Foreign Minister Roelof F. Botha told reporters that de Klerk hoped his announcements today would sway the United States and European governments to lift their sanctions against South Africa.

    De Klerk's speech drew praise, but no promises on sanctions.

    The White House called it "a big step in the right direction," but spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, "We will wait until the parliament acts and then we'll see" about a decision on sanctions.

    In Washington, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and an opponent of easing sanctions, called de Klerk's actions "greatly insufficient. . . . By revoking the pillars of apartheid one by one, Mr. de Klerk is only picking away at South Africa's walls of oppression. His actions today, though a move in the right direction, will not substitute for ripping down the walls once and for all."

    In Brussels, the European Commission external affairs commissioner, Frans Andriessen, said EC sanctions can be eased, but only if de Klerk follows through on "the execution of these initiatives" announced today.

    But the 10-nation Southern African Development Coordination Conference, made up of South Africa's black-ruled neighbors, urged the international community to keep sanctions in place "until that {apartheid} system is completely dismantled."

    Black leaders reacted cautiously to today's announcements. The ANC's internal leader, Walter Sisulu, said that while 1990 had been "a momentous year" and there was "much talk of change, we still don't have the right to vote." Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu compared de Klerk's speech to "a curate's egg, good in parts but not so good in others."

    In announcing his intentions to repeal the Land Acts and Group Areas Act, de Klerk said the government will publish soon a policy paper setting forth its approach to sweeping land reform, an emotional proposition that has led thousands of white farmers to demonstrate their opposition in the streets of Pretoria.

    The issue also is emotional for South Africa's 30 million blacks, who have been relegated to living in the poorest 13 percent of the country and have seen 3.5 million of their people forcibly ejected from areas reserved for the 5 million whites.

    De Klerk said his government had decided that, rather than wait for agreement on a new constitution, he immediately would repeal the Population Registration Act, which he said would be replaced by "temporary transitional measures."

    The act is considered the most reprehensible of all the apartheid laws and the most burdensome for non-whites to endure in their daily lives. It also has provided the basis for separate voter rolls for all races but blacks, who have no right to vote except for township councils.

    Gerrit Viljoen, the minister of constitutional development, made clear in a briefing for reporters before de Klerk's speech that blacks still will not gain the right to vote until a new constitution is negotiated.

    Repeal of the Population Registration Act, Viljoen said, would mean that "new people born and new people coming into the country" will not be classified racially any longer. But the existing population register would be maintained until a new constitution takes effect, and blacks would not have the right to vote even at the local level until then, he said.

    The walkout by Conservatives was reportedly the first time the opposition has taken such action during a speech opening parliament, the equivalent of the U.S. president's State of the Union address.

    The Conservative leader, Andries Treurnicht, told reporters on the steps of parliament later that "the government doesn't know how serious the implications of its steps are to abolish certain acts. It means the end of our community {white} life and the ownership of white territory."

    But the liberal white Democratic Party leader, Zach de Beer, dismissed the conservative protest as "disgraceful," calling it the "immature" reaction of "people whose sun is setting very fast. Those people have no real role to play anymore."

    Botha asserted that "virtually" all the five conditions laid down by the U.S. Congress in the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act had been met, and that with the repeal of the Land and Group Areas acts, the South African reform process will have reached "the point of irreversibility."

    In addition to repeal of those acts, the other congressional conditions for lifting of sanctions include legalizing anti-apartheid groups and allowing free political activity, freeing all political prisoners, repealing the state of emergency and agreeing to enter negotiations with the black majority in good faith and without preconditions.

    The sticking point on any decision by the United States to lift sanctions could be the issue of the release of "all persons persecuted for their political beliefs or detained unduly without trial" as called for by Congress.

    The government has pledged to release all political prisoners by April 30, but there is no agreement between it and the African National Congress as to the exact number. The ANC says there are around 3,000 prisoners, including those held as "security" and "unrest" detainees. The government puts the number at no more than 600 and says it has released more than 200 of them already.

    De Klerk made these additional announcements of reform proposals:

    A "Manifesto for The New South Africa." Handed out to reporters together with de Klerk's speech, the document contains a set of basic principles and values intended to "give direction" to the forthcoming negotiating process for a new, post-apartheid constitution.

    A "multi-party conference." Virtually identical to the ANC's proposed "all-party conference," this would bring together representatives "of all political parties which enjoy proven support" to undertake exploratory talks on drawing up a new constitution. De Klerk rejected again an ANC call for an elected constituent assembly to accomplish this task.

    An interim government of sorts. The president rejected the ANC call for the dissolution of the present government but proposed "certain transitional arrangements" allowing leaders of all negotiating parties "a voice in the formulation of important policy decisions."

    Local government. De Klerk said he will submit legislation that will allow local white and black town and city councils to negotiate a new system of local government based on the concept of "one municipality, one tax base."

    Protection of white communities. De Klerk pledged to seek assurances for the protection of "community rights" possibly as part of a bill of human rights. He said communities would have to be based on the principle of freedom of association as recognized constitutionally in other countries.

    Court reform. The president proposed simplifying legal procedures and creating justices of the peace or something similar to deal with misdemeanors in local communities. This appeared to be a counter-proposal to the "people's courts" that pro-ANC groups are setting up in townships to dispense summary justice.

    © Copyright 1991 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar