Americans have a distorted view of the problems in South Africa and don't realize the government has already taken steps to eliminate apartheid, says the vice consul for the South African consulate in Los Angeles.
Christelle Slabbert told an audience Tuesday at the International Forum at Brigham Young University that the South African government realizes it needs a more equal form of government, and only a minority of apartheid supporters remain in the South African Parliament. As a result, Parliament selected F.W. de Klerk to be the country's new president because he will bring the change about faster than former President P.W. Botha."I agree with you, and the South African government agrees with you. We do have to change our politics and we have been changing our politics since 1983," Slabbert said. "But these things cannot be changed overnight."
Slabbert said many changes have already taken place and that blacks in South Africa have more privileges than most of the world is led to believe. She said most of the apartheid laws have already been changed.
"For the most part blacks have the same privileges as whites," she said. "We don't have very many apartheid laws left."
In 1984, Slabbert said, a new education policy was adopted that gave equal opportunities to blacks. As a result, more blacks are now becoming "qualified to fill the jobs traditionally held by whites," she said. Blacks also have equal rights in the business community.
However, blacks still can't vote, and segregated neighborhoods, schools and hospitals are still common in South Africa, Slabbert said. "But that applies to whites too. If I became sick in a black neighborhood I would have to be treated at a white hospital," she said.
Slabbert said former President P. W. Botha initiated the reform by involving Indians and coloreds (a mixture of races) in the government process. The unrest in South Africa resulted because he was slow to involve blacks, she said.
De Klerk, who became acting president Aug. 15 when the South African Cabinet forced Botha to resign after 11 years in power, has said he hopes to eliminate discrimination before his five-year term expires. Slabbert said de Klerk plans to grant limited voting rights to blacks and will involve black leaders in the reform process and in developing a new constitution that will give blacks more rights.
"He doesn't care how they are chosen or who they are, just as long as they represent a group of people," Slabbert said.
Slabbert said de Klerk plans on emphasizing a quality education for all South African citizens and will move to strengthen South Africa's economy. She said de Klerk hopes the reform will bring an end to the international sanctions against South Africa that have only "hurt the blacks."
South Africans are anticipating that de Klerk will announce in January the release of political prisoners in an attempt to bring equality and peace to South Africa, she said.