JOHANNESBURG, JUNE 1 -- The South African government moved today to repeal the Separate Amenities Act, an important foundation of the apartheid system, which segregates facilities such as city parks, beaches and swimming pools.
The bill is part of a package of reforms that President Frederik W. de Klerk is expected to announce over the next two weeks. They may include a lifting or relaxation of the four-year-old state of emergency, and general amnesties for about 500 political prisoners and tens of thousands of political exiles, sources close to the president said. The emergency is due for renewal June 12 and could simply be allowed to lapse.
The reforms have been agreed in negotiations between representatives of the government and the African National Congress following last month's ground-breaking meeting between the two sides. However, de Klerk is said to be planning their sequential announcement in the hope of influencing leaders of the European Community to lift sanctions against South Africa at an EC summit in Dublin June 25.
The sources close to de Klerk said this is one reason he postponed his planned trip to the United States this month after the ANC and American black leaders complained about President Bush meeting him prior to ANC deputy president Nelson Mandela, who is due to leave Monday on a 13-nation tour that will take him to the White House June 25.
According to these sources, the white-minority government decided that it would be better for de Klerk to avoid becoming embroiled in this controversy -- and the likelihood of being overshadowed by Mandela's reception in the United States -- and, instead, to stay home to supervise a new phase of reformist moves aimed at scoring a breakthrough on European sanctions.
De Klerk met with nine European leaders during his European tour last month. According to press reports here, some told him that they might support an easing of sanctions at the Dublin summit if he took "practical reform steps" before then.
This, it is being suggested, led to the decision to make a splash of the reforms already agreed in negotiations with the ANC -- beginning with today's bill to repeal segregation at many public facilities.
The bill also would repeal clauses in other laws that regulate who may use public transport, sports and social clubs and places of entertainment. It is expected to be passed by the white-controlled parliament by mid-June despite fierce opposition from the far-right Conservative Party. With only 39 seats in a house of 177 members, the Conservatives fall well short of being able to block the legislation.
Most public facilities already have been integrated as the government has allowed segregationist laws to be bent in recent years in the face of internal protests and international pressures.
The bill is considered symbolically important, however, and the repeal of racial separatist legislation will make it more difficult for Conservative-controlled town councils to enforce the segregation of facilities in their areas as they have been doing.
While de Klerk mounts his campaign to try to persuade the European Community to ease sanctions, Mandela will be striving, in the course of his tour, to keep them in place. The ANC deputy president is to see all the European leaders de Klerk saw in May and is scheduled to address the European Community and European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on June 13 and 14.
De Klerk wants sanctions lifted to ease pressure on the South African economy and help him offset the backlash that his reforms are provoking among white voters, particularly the Dutch-descended Afrikaners, who form the core of his National Party's traditional support.
For his part, Mandela wants the pressure on Pretoria kept up to strengthen the ANC's bargaining position during the constitutional negotiations that lie ahead.
While welcoming de Klerk's reformist moves and continuing to praise the president for his political courage, Mandela has made clear in repeated statements that he believes that only the pressure of sanctions and internal black mobilization are driving the government.
He wants the pressure maintained as the negotiation process gets underway to close the gap between the government's negotiating position and that of the ANC.
The ANC is pushing for a nonracial democracy in which the majority will rule. De Klerk has said majority rule is unacceptable to whites and, instead, talks of a system of "power-sharing" among groups that would perpetuate racially segregated voters' rolls and give the white minority a veto on changes aimed at redressing the inequalities of the past.
Mandela says he accepts that compromise between these positions will be necessary. But he wants pressure on the government to be kept up to force the compromise to be closer to his position than de Klerk's.