SOUTH African President F. W. de Klerk's announced intention to seek repeal of the three remaining pillars of the apartheid system marks the close of a failed experiment in authoritarianism and legally sanctioned racial repression. It was also a momentous decision. Scrapping the Group Areas Act, the Lands Act and the Population Registration Act has long been a moral imperative -- and a key demand of U.S. sanctions legislation -- since these acts enshrine the doctrine, and countenance the practice, of white supremacy. Those laws form the crux of a 42-year-old system that guarantees white ownership of over 87 percent of the land, segregates residential communities by race and requires rigid racial classifications from birth -- making skin color an absolute condition of receiving the full rights and benefits of citizenship. Their enforcement requires the largest bureaucracy in the South African government. With their repeal, South Africa's systemic racial practices lose the force of law. That alone gives distinction to Mr. de Klerk's decision. The taunts of "traitor" and the jeers hurled at him by white opposition Conservative Party members -- and their unprecedented walkout during his speech -- only accentuate his courage.
Yet it is not surprising that the de Klerk announcement, well received within the European Community and in Australia, Britain and much of the United States, drew a mixture of praise and criticism from black leaders. From their perspective, much of the sting and shame of apartheid remain. The right to vote is still denied; so is the ability to serve in parliament. Eliminating the apartheid statutes will not return thousands of political exiles, nor will it free political prisoners or eliminate emergency security laws that allow indefinite detention. And the South African government has not yet entered into "good faith negotiations" on a new constitution. All of that lies ahead and must be tackled with the same determination as the proposed removal of the statutes.
It takes nothing away from either last week's Mandela-Buthelezi accord or the de Klerk initiative to observe that an even harder part now begins in South Africa. As this country knows as well as any, proclaiming racial equality does not eliminate the persistence and pervasiveness of racial discrimination. Only determination and endurance can lead to progress. Soon in South Africa, two worlds that have lived apart for nearly 50 years must come together to build a new democratic order based on educational, economic and social models that take into account the enormous legacy of disparities and inequality willed upon the new South Africa by institutional racism.