De Klerk calls for abolition of apartheid laws

February 02, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Declaring that South Africa is on a one-way street to reform, President Frederik W. de Klerk proposed yesterday to dismantle the remaining pillars of apartheid and negotiate a new constitution free of discrimination.

"There is neither time nor room for turning back," Mr. de Klerk said in a nationally televised speech at the opening of Parliament. "There is only one road. Ahead."

The speech prompted a walkout by right-wing members of Parliament, who labeled the president a traitor to his race and said he was the only leader in the world willing to negotiate himself and his people out of power.

Meanwhile, black activists marched through the streets of Cape Town protesting that they still did not have the vote. They demanded the dismantling of the country's racially segregated Parliament and the immediate establishment of an interim government.

Yesterday's drama took place one year after Mr. de Klerk shocked South Africa by lifting the ban on anti-apartheid organizations, revealing his plans to release Nelson Mandela and setting the country on a serious course of political reform.

"The initiatives of the past year have prepared the way for a new South Africa," the president told Parliament. "Our task this year will be to give greater content to our vision of what the new South Africa should be like."

Mr. de Klerk called for the scrapping of the three remaining laws that formed the foundation of apartheid, South Africa's system of racial repression. He proposed the outright repeal of the Group Areas Act, which segregates housing by race, and the

Land Acts, which reserve 87 percent of South Africa's land for the white minority. He also proposed to modify the Population Registration Act, which requires that all South Africans be classified by race.

Under the proposal, no new classifications would occur in the future, but those South Africans already classified by race would be unaffected and the voter rolls would remain racially segregated until a new constitution is in place, according to government officials.

"It's in our view astonishing that the only leader in the white, the Western world is our leader who can decide to negotiate himself, his party and his people out of political [power]," said Andries Treurnicht, leader of the Conservative Party, the main white opposition party in Parliament.

Conservative members disrupted Mr. de Klerk's speech with shouts of protest, at least one member yelling that the president was a traitor, before walking out of the chamber as the parliamentarian called for order.

Zach de Beer, leader of the liberal Democratic Party, said it was "disgraceful behavior, really rather immature and silly, from people whose sun is setting very fast. These people have no role to play anymore."

Mr. de Beer said the president's speech was "sound," although it failed to address some of the "disturbing" problems plaguing the country, such as crime, unemployment and police abuses.

Thousands of blacks around the country staged marches, rallies and work stoppages to protest the opening of Parliament and demand faster political change.

"There has been much talk of change, but we still do not have the vote, and that is what our people want today," Walter Sisulu, a top leader of the African National Congress, told 10,000 demonstrators outside Cape Town's City Hall. He addressed the audience from theame stage from which Mr. Mandela spoke after he was released from prison last Feb. 11.

"It has been a year of momentous change," said Mr. Sisulu. "Much has been achieved, but there is still a long way to go."

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu criticized Mr. de Klerk for rejecting calls for an interim government and a constituent assembly, but he congratulated the president for his courage in pushing ahead with reform.

"It is going to be very difficult for us to continue to ask for [international economic] sanctions," he said.

Foreign Minister Roelof "Pik" Botha told reporters, "What is happening today is not to remove sanctions. What is happening today is confirming President de Klerk's clear statements that the process toward dismantling apartheid and fundamental change in South Africa is irreversible."

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