Apartheid's Leftover Problems

March 18, 1991

Welcome as South Africa's decision to scrap its apartheid land and housing laws may be, mere repeal of noxious laws does not compensate for years of dispossession. Millions of blacks were deprived of their homes and forcibly moved to segregated locations in the past four decades. Many were denied home ownership. There will have to be some system of reparation and redress before the country can really become a non-racial democracy.

The situation in South Africa today can be compared, perhaps fancifully, with the demolition of the Berlin Wall. While enormous barriers are being removed, the problems caused by these barriers remain. It will take vision and courage for the present white minority government and the disenfranchised black majority to correct the economic as well as the social and political evils of apartheid without triggering serious internal turmoil.

President Frederik W. de Klerk's submission to parliament of proposals to repeal the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936, the Group Areas Act of 1966 and the Black Communities Development Act of 1984 marks the second of three major steps to eliminate apartheid from the books. A year ago, segregation in public accommodations was removed. Still to be submitted is the promised repeal of the Population Registration Act, which classifies each new-born by race and thereby imposes harsh restrictions on all non-whites -- not only blacks but Indians and so-called "coloreds" of mixed blood.

Once parliament enacts all these reforms, probably in late Spring, the United States may feel enough progress has been made to lift some of the sanctions imposed on the apartheid regime. But Mr. de Klerk, on one side, and the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela, on the other, still dispute whether blacks should be compensated for property taken away from them. They disagree, too, on preparations for a new constitution. Mr. de Klerk favors a constitution to be written by the white minority government before blacks are given the vote. Mr. Mandela wants an interim government in which all races play a proportionate role in writing the new constitution.

In pursuing his dramatic agenda, Mr. de Klerk has obviously been leery of a powerful white right-wing opposition that stoutly defends apartheid. Similarly, Mr. Mandela has to be wary of members of the black community who have a considerable financial stake in some aspects of the apartheid system. These two men, whose mutual respect has to be one of the nicest things going in South Africa, have many challenges ahead. To the extent that they can keep working together in good will, their country can have a future far brighter than could have been forecast only two years ago.

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