clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Parliament abolished the last major apartheid law Monday in an overwhelming vote that ended the racial classification of South Africa's citizens.

The repeal of the Population Registration Act was a milestone in the dismantling of apartheid. But the action did not address the biggest race reform still confronting South Africa: negotiating a new constitution that will give blacks the vote.Enacted in 1950, the Population Registration Act classified citizens as black, white, Asian or mixed-race and served as the foundation of virtually all apartheid measures.

"Now (apartheid legislation) belongs to history," President F.W. de Klerk told Parliament in Cape Town. "Now everybody is free of it."

De Klerk reiterated his hopes that black-white negotiations on a new constitution will soon follow and said a constitution "is within our reach within a few years."

Racial classification determined where a person could live, which schools one could attend, which public toilets one could use and which cemeteries one was buried in.

"It was an act of racial bigotry and caused untold suffering and humiliation," said Barney Desai, spokesman for the Pan Africanist Congress, a militant anti-apartheid group. "I'm not going to say, `Hooray.' But in essence, one is saying goodbye to a bad dream."

Many racial restrictions already have been removed by de Klerk, but the lives of most blacks have not been changed by his reforms.

Of the 308 members in the three-chamber Parliament, only the 38 members of the pro-apartheid Conservative Party voted against scrapping the registration law.

Parliament approved a replacement measure that ends all new race classifications and removes race references that remained in other laws. But people already racially classified will remain so until a new constitution is negotiated.

Since coming to power in 1989, de Klerk has moved swiftly to end statutory discrimination. Neighborhoods, hospitals, property ownership, parks, beaches and many other facilities have been legally desegregated.

But for the vast majority of blacks, little has changed in their day-to-day lives.

Black townships and schools are overcrowded and underfinanced, the best hospitals are far away. Most blacks cannot afford relatively inexpensive homes in black neighborhoods, let alone those in affluent white suburbs.

Critics also note that some reforms have loopholes allowing whites to retain segregation if they wish.

For example, white public schools may now be integrated, but only if 72 percent of white parents at a school vote in favor of accepting children of other races. About 100 schools in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban have begun accepting black students, but the vast majority remain segregated.

The repeal of the registration act is likely to bring a further easing of foreign economic sanctions, which have been crumbling over the past year in response to de Klerk's reforms.

De Klerk says he is ready to begin black-white talks on a new constitution that will give the 30 million blacks equal voting rights.

But the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid groups said the government must first free all political prisoners and do more to end violence in the black townships.

About 4,000 blacks have been killed in factional fighting during the last 18 months. The ANC has repeatedly claimed that de Klerk has not done enough to end the violence, mainly between supporters of the ANC and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.

Additional information

U.S. not ready to lift sanctions

The United States is pleased with South Africa's repeal of the last legal pillar of apartheid but is still not yet ready to lift its economic sanctions against Pretoria, administration officials said Monday.

Officials said South Africa had satisfied four of the five conditions laid down by Congress in 1986 legislation for the lifting of sanctions.

But the Bush administration was still studying South Africa's claim that it had also fulfilled the fifth condition - the release of all political prisoners.

"We're still in a process of examining that issue and we have not yet made a determination," said one State Department official.