South African Parliament repeals laws segregating residency, landownership

June 06, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Acting on a proposal by President F. W. de Klerk to abolish the country's apartheid laws, the South African Parliament voted yesterday to repeal the statutes segregating residential areas and limiting black landownership.

The action came on separate votes in the three chambers of Parliament, which are segregated along racial lines. The powerful white chamber, controlled by Mr. de Klerk's National Party, approved the repeal on a vote of 112-30 as right-wing members proclaimed they would die before relinquishing any land to blacks.

"This bill makes white South Africa into everyman's land," complained Jan Hoon, a spokesman for the pro-apartheid Conservative Party, which forms the main opposition in Parliament. Under the repeal measure, black landownership would no longer be restricted to specific areas designated for blacks.

Both the Indian chamber and the one for mixed-race people, known as coloreds, approved the repeal on voice votes. But some mixed-race lawmakers complained that the government was retaining some vestiges of apartheid even as it abolished the old pillars of the system.

"It's the perpetuation of apartheid in disguise," said Allan Hendrikse, leader of the mixed-race House of Representatives.

South Africa's black majority of 28 million people is not represented in the segregated Parliament, and leaders of black opposition groups have dismissed much of the legislative action as almost irrelevant in light of plans to negotiate a new constitution in which everyone would have an equal vote for the first time in South Africa's history.

However, negotiations between the two major political playersthe government and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, have been stalled for weeks as the two sides argue over other issues, such as the release of political prisoners.

More than 1,000 have been released over the past year, including several who embarked on a hunger strike May 1. The ANC says all must be released before negotiations can begin on a constitution.

With its action yesterday, Parliament scrapped the Group AreaAct, which segregated all residential areas in the country according to race. It also repealed the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936, which reserved 87 percent of the country's land for its white majority and forced blacks to crowd into the other 13 percent.

"We say, 'Oh happy day,' " said Peter Soal of the liberal Democratic Party, which has 30 members in the 178-member House of Assembly, the white chamber. "We rejoice with all those who feel the yoke of oppression being lifted."

Like the mixed-race members, Mr. Soal complained about a section of the repeal bill that allows white communities to vote on "norms and standards" for their neighborhoods. Opponents say that provision is a way of maintaining segregation.

The repeal of the three bills is scheduled to become effective June 30, after Parliament adjourns this year's historic session. The only major apartheid statute that remains to be abolished is the Population Registration Act, which mandates that all South Africans be classified by race. That act formed the foundation for all other race-based legislation, which for decades dictated where South Africans could eat, live, work, go to school and even be buried.

Mr. de Klerk has proposed that the population act be scrapped this year also, but the racial classification system would remain in place -- with no further classifications being made -- until a new constitution was actually drafted.

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