President Frederik W. de Klerk legalized the African National Congress on Friday and promised to free Nelson Mandela, a historic concession to the epic struggle for freedom by the nation's black majority.
Thousands of blacks filled the streets of several cities to celebrate the announcements by De Klerk in a speech that was widely hailed as courageous.
But black activists and several countries said that despite the move to legalize the ANC and dozens of other anti-apartheid groups, the white-run government must now follow through. De Klerk did not act dismantle the foundation of the apartheid system that would give South Africa's 28 million blacks a direct voice in running the country.
Activists, white businessmen, liberal politicians and foreign governments praised the courage of De Klerk, who scrapped many other restrictions on opposition activity in a bid to draw the ANC into negotiations on South Africa's future.
"It's incredible. What he said has certainly taken my breath away," said Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to apartheid. "We could say that we are probably seeing history in the making in South Africa."
President Bush called the move "quite positive" and said he will review U.S. sanctions on South Africa. An aide said De Klerk and Mandela will be invited to the White House when the black leader is released.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain described De Klerk's announcement as "a historic landmark," and lifted cultural and academic embargoes.
The exiled ANC said De Klerk's announcements "go a long way to creating the climate conducive to negotiations." But the Zambia-based organization, which has been fighting a guerrilla war almost 30 years, said more changes were needed before talks could begin.
If the two sides begin negotiations, quick breakthroughs appear unlikely.
The ANC and all leading anti-apartheid groups demand a one-person, one-vote democracy, which De Klerk opposes, saying it will result in the 28 million blacks dominating the 5 million whites.
De Klerk, since taking office in August, has said he envisions some type of system in which no single racial group would dominate.
Mandela, 71, the country's best-known black leader, would be freed shortly, De Klerk said. But he said "personal circumstances and safety" were among the factors delaying the release.
"I want to put it plainly that the government has decided to release Nelson Mandela unconditionally," he said. "Unfortunately, a further short passage of time is unavoidable."
Tutu agreed with De Klerk's assessment, saying, "There may be people, a lunatic fringe, who would want to subvert the process by liquidating him. I think that we have to accept that there are certain constraints."
De Klerk said he would lift bans on more than 30 outlawed groups and scrap restrictions on a similar number. He pledged to free most prisoners jailed for belonging to these groups, declared a moratorium on executions, and lifted most of the restrictions imposed during a 43-month-old state of emergency.
These were the principal steps demanded by Mandela and the ANC as conditions for negotiations on a new constitution that would end the black majority's exclusion from national politics.
"The season of violence is over. The time for reconstruction and reconciliation has arrived," De Klerk said in his speech, greeted with cheers from supporters and silence from the right-wing opposition.
De Klerk said his Cabinet unanimously agreed on the decision and the action on legalizing the groups requires no action from Parliament or any other branch of government.
Andries Treurnicht, leader of the pro-apartheid Conservative Party, challenged de Klerk to call an immediate election for white voters to see whether they backed his decisions.
"We say he has no mandate for doing the drastic things he intends doing," Treurnicht said.
At the perimeter of the parliamentary buildings, about 5,000 demonstrators, many chanting "ANC! ANC!" joined a march demanding Mandela's release.
In Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, the three largest cities, thousands of blacks sang and danced in the streets to celebrate the ANC's legalization.
Police said marchers threw stones at them in Johannesburg and ordered the crowd to disperse. They then fired tear gas. No arrests or serious injuries were reported.
The groups to be legalized, in addition to the ANC, include the smaller Pan-Africanist Congress guerrilla movement, the South African Communist Party and the United Democratic Front, a nationwide multiracial anti-apartheid coalition.
The United Democratic Front, which is aligned with the ANC, welcomed De Klerk's changes but called for sanctions to remain in place.
"To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process to democracy," it said in a statement.
De Klerk said he was lifting restrictions imposed on 374 activists after their release from detention.
He said state-of-emergency detentions would be limited to a maximum of six months and emergency restrictions on the media would be scrapped except for some unspecified controls over photographic and television coverage of unrest.
Mandela, 71, has been jailed since 1962 and is serving a life sentence for helping plan the start of the ANC's sabotage and bombing campaign. He has met with De Klerk, other government officials and anti-apartheid leaders over the last several months in talks aimed at clearing the way for negotiations.
The ANC was outlawed in 1960 after 48 years of nonviolent campaigning for black rights. In 1961, it launched its sabotage campaign.
In the last year, the guerrilla campaign has subsided markedly. The ANC's exiled leadership has acknowledged that its military options were limited and that it favored negotiations if De Klerk was willing to allow unrestricted black political activity.
"The allegation has been that the government did not wish to talk to them (the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress) and that they are deprived of their right to normal political activity," De Klerk said.
"The unconditional lifting of the prohibition . . . places everybody in a position to pursue politics freely," he added. "The justification for violence, which was always advanced, no longer exists."
DE KLERK'S PROPOSED REFORMS Here are highlights of the concessions to the black majority made by President F. W. de Klerk on Friday in a speech to Parliament:
* Legalization of the African National Congress, outlawed since 1960, and more than 60 other banned and restricted organizations including the Pan-Africanist Congress, the South African Communist Party, the United Democratic Front and the Azanian People's Organization.
* Release in the near future of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners--except those who have committed ordinary crimes.
* Moratorium on hangings, until the government rewrites the death-sentence law to apply only to extreme cases. Death Row prisoners henceforth will have an automatic right to appeal.
* Repeal of the Separate Amenities Act promised during the current session of Parliament, ending the right of local authorities to segregate public facilities by race.
* Lifting of emergency regulations regarding education and the press, except the restrictions on photography and filming of political unrest.
* Ending emergency restrictions on freedom of speech, movement, assembly and work that were imposed on 374 freed detainees, and the emergency regulations which allowed such restrictions to be repealed.
* Retaining detention without trial, but limiting it to six months. Detainees will have the right to legal representation and a doctor of their own choice.