S. Africa ends segregation of public facilities

October 16, 1990|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG,SOUTH AFRICA — JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The Separate Amenities Act, which allowed white authorities to ban blacks from public accommodations in South Africa for nearly four decades, passed out of existence yesterday amid threats of a right-wing backlash against the government's political reforms.

Legislation repealing the act was passed in June by the country's racially segregated Parliament and took effect at midnight yesterday, making it illegal for local governments to segregate facilities such as buses, swimming pools, parks, libraries and restaurants.

"From today, no one is allowed to keep anyone out of a publifacility on the basis of color," said Teresa van Loggerenburg, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Planning and Provincial Affairs.

Leaders of the opposition Conservative Party accused thgovernment of destroying white community life with the repeal of the 1953 law. Deputy leader Ferdi Hartzenberg said the act had maintained "good order" for decades and predicted that racial ,, tension would result from its repeal.

The Separate Amenities Act was one of the major pillars oapartheid, South Africa's system of racial segregation and discrimination. Remaining on the statute books are:

* the Group Areas Act, which mandates residential segregation;

* the Land Acts, which reserve 87 percent of South Africa's land for the white minority;

* the Population Registration Act, which classifies South Africans by race.

South African President F. W. de Klerk has promised to scrap thGroup Areas Act and the Land Acts next year as part of his program of political reform, which is to result in a new constitution giving blacks equal rights.

Most major cities in South Africa already have ended segregatioof public accommodations, but in small towns dominated by the Conservative Party, local authorities began plotting moves to maintain whites-only facilities.

The town of Springs outside Johannesburg closed its municipaswimming pool. Bethal, about 50 miles to the southeast, planned to impose a $200 library membership fee for "non-residents" -- meaning blacks who live in townships outside the limits of the officially segregated town.

In Middelburg, a town east of Johannesburg, where members oa racially mixed group were evicted from the town hall where they gathered for a prayer meeting last week, town councilors planned a meeting to discuss new fees to be levied in response to the repeal.

"For the ordinary man in the street, the concern is that he igoing to be swamped," said Middelburg town clerk Peter Collins. "There are 65,000 blacks in the township and only 30,000 whites in town." The whites are "scared we're going to have misbehavior," he said.

Mr. Collins said the town was considering imposing "reasonable" fee to limit the number of people using its pool but would not impose the fee on the basis of race.

Gill Marcus of the African National Congress countered, "There ino question of the issue being overcrowding. The issue is one of race. Historically, whites have always used the argument about whites being swamped by blacks. It's simply a racist attitude on their part. We don't accept that at all."

Miss Marcus said the ANC had not planned any specifiresponse yet to the tactics of conservative town councils, but she said the organization was encouraging people of all races to use public facilities.

"Barriers that have been entrenched for decades need to bbroken down," she said.

Titus Mafolo, an ANC regional official for the Transvaal Provincewhich includes Johannesburg, said the organization would respond with "mass action" if blacks were prevented from using public facilities. "Those [Conservative Party] towns who refuse to allow all people to use facilities can expect mass consumer boycotts, among other forms of protests," he said.

Planning Minister Hernus Kriel warned that the government would take legal action against any municipalities that try to circumvent the new law.

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