JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The South African government introduced legislation in Parliament yesterday aimed at repealing eight decades of mandatory racial discrimination in housing and land ownership.
The land reform bills are the first concrete steps taken by President Frederik W. de Klerk's government since he promised in a speech Feb. 1 to repeal all remaining apartheid laws. The legislation also would provide blacks with assistance in acquiring land.
"The government has now decided . . . to repeal all measures that regulate land rights and land tenure according to race and population group," said a memorandum explaining the government's new land reform policy. "Race and population groups should no longer be a qualification for the acquisition of land rights." Government officials said, however, that no attempt would be made to return land that was forcibly taken in order to create racially segregated areas. "Certain groups have been disadvantaged with regard to occupation of land," said Education Minister Stoffel van der Merwe. "This has been addressed in a positive form by empowering them to get access to land rather than in a destructive way by trying to restore it to the original owners.
"If one were to try to restore land to its original owners, one would have to go back too far into history," Mr. van der Merwe said.
The African National Congress had demanded that blacks and other non-white groups be compensated for land they lost because of apartheid. "If radical land reform does not take place, we can expect an outburst of uncontrollable political anger," the ANC said in a document last month.
"The choice is whether to acknowledge the past and develop terms which address it, or to pretend the past can be washed away," Aninka Classens, a member of the ANC's special land committee, said in response to the government's announcement.
Peter Soal, a spokesman for the liberal Democratic Party, said the government's failure to make restitution for land that was seized under apartheid was a "serious shortcoming" in the land reform policy. "Land . . . has to be returned to the people from whom it was stolen."
The government's new policy was contained in five bills presented to Parliament and a policy paper released at a news conference.
Under the legislation, which is certain to be approved by Parliament during the current session, the government will repeal the following statutes:
* The Group Areas Act, which segregates housing in urban areas.
* The Land Acts of 1913 and 1936, which reserve 87 percent of the land for whites and restrict black farming to 13 percent of the country, although blacks outnumber whites by a ratio of 5-to-1.
* The Black Communities Development Act, which provides for the establishment of segregated black townships.