S. Africa Repeals Apartheid Basis : Reform: Killing of the Population Registration Act ends four decades of cradle-to-grave racial labeling. De Klerk sees the way clear for a ‘true democracy.’

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The Population Registration Act, the legal foundation of apartheid, was formally repealed by the white-controlled Parliament on Monday, ending four decades of cradle-to-grave racial labeling in South Africa.

The notorious statute, the last of the pillars of apartheid to fall this month, was the building block for hundreds of laws that have protected privilege for 4.5 million whites and denied the vote and other democratic rights to 28 million blacks.

President Frederik W. de Klerk said Parliament has “finally brought to an end an era in which the lives of every South African were affected in the minutest detail by racially based legislation.”


“Now everybody is free of it,” De Klerk told a special joint session of the white, Indian and Colored (mixed-race) houses of Parliament in Cape Town. “Now everybody is free from the discouragement and denial . . . and from the moral dilemma caused by this legislation, which was born and nurtured under different circumstances in a departed era.”

De Klerk said the way is now clear for constitutional negotiations with black leaders to “guarantee participation and representation to all South Africans in a true democracy, with effective protection of minorities.”

“It is within our reach within a few years,” he said. “I do not doubt for a moment that we shall succeed.”

The African National Congress, the leading black opposition group, welcomed the repeal Monday but said it does not go far enough.

Under the measure, the government will no longer register the race of newborns or immigrants. But the population register, which lists the race of the remainder of South Africa’s 36 million people, will be maintained until a new constitution is negotiated.

Government officials say that is a legal technicality required to temporarily support the current constitution, which still denies voting rights to black Africans and provides separate, less powerful houses of Parliament for Indians and Coloreds.


But by keeping the population register intact, the government also can maintain several apartheid laws. Among the more important are measures that give lower state pensions to blacks than whites and that allow government-run white schools to remain segregated if they want.

“As long as such blatantly racist practices continue, the Population Registration Act will have been removed in name only,” the ANC said in a statement Monday. It added that the average black South African is no better off now than before De Klerk launched his reforms.

The repeal of population registration marked the end of the first phase of De Klerk’s 17-month-old reform program. He has scrapped the Separate Amenities Act, which allowed towns to segregate everything from public toilets to libraries; the Group Areas Act, which segregated residential neighborhoods; the Land Acts, which denied blacks the right to purchase land in 87% of the country, and hundreds of other discriminatory measures.

De Klerk also has removed the countrywide state of emergency, freed 1,022 political prisoners and amended security laws that once allowed for indefinite detention without trial.

However, the ANC and other anti-apartheid groups say the government has simply removed laws that shouldn’t have been passed in the first place. And they contend that the president has so far failed to erase the legacy of apartheid.

They note, for instance, that the government has replaced residential segregation with measures that allow neighborhoods to draw up “norms and standards,” which could amount to apartheid in disguise. They also have criticized the government’s refusal to redistribute land to blacks, particularly the 3.5 million people forcibly removed from their property.


“All we’re doing is scrapping the legislation,” said Jan van Eck, a member of Parliament from the Democratic Party, the government’s white liberal opposition. “It’s like saying to the beggar: ‘You can go beg.’ It doesn’t mean he’ll be successful. The process of reform isn’t irreversible yet.”

However, the South African government clearly hopes that the removal of race classification will mark the final blow to international sanctions, which have taken an economic and psychological toll on the country.

The International Olympic Committee already has indicated that the act’s repeal, along with the creation of non-segregated sporting bodies inside South Africa, will be enough to earn Pretoria an invitation to the Olympics, perhaps in time for the Summer Games next year in Barcelona, Spain.

And the government believes that its action Monday clears the final hurdle for removing U.S. congressional sanctions, the world’s stiffest. President Bush has indicated that he will move quickly to lift sanctions when the conditions are met.

But the ANC contends that Pretoria has not yet met the U.S. conditions, which include the freeing of all political prisoners. De Klerk says the prisoner release is continuing and that the government still is deciding whether several hundred applicants, convicted of such crimes as murder and robbery, qualify as political prisoners.

The ANC said Monday that it wants sanctions maintained “until it is clear that the process of moving toward a non-racial and just society is irreversible.”


The Population Registration Act was repealed on a vote of 89-38 in the white house of Parliament, with all members of the right-wing Conservative Party voting against repeal. At least one Conservative member of Parliament was ejected from the chamber when he protested during De Klerk’s speech. The houses of Indian and Colored legislators approved the bill unanimously.

During debate on the measure, Jac Rabie, a Colored member of Parliament, seemed to sum up the hurt and confusion that the race registration act had caused since 1950, when it was passed by what was then a whites-only Parliament.

Rabie said his mother was first classified white, then Colored. He was classified Indian, but it was changed to Colored. One of his brothers is black and another is white. Each of his three sons is classified as a different subgroup of the Coloreds. And two of his uncles are white and members of the pro-apartheid Conservative Party.

“I can only say, hallelujah, amen. It is over,” Rabie said.

Many South Africans saw the move as a clear signal that the government is committed to ending racial discrimination. But others felt nothing but bitterness.

“We have waited so long for these things that it loses any sense of meaning,” said Peter Hendrickse, whose father, Allan Hendrickse, controls the Colored chamber of Parliament.

Peter Hendrickse added that discrimination, especially by private businesses and resorts, would take generations to erase. “They say I will no longer be ‘Colored,’ ” he said. “But I will still be treated like one.”


Despite his reforms, De Klerk, whose father helped institute and maintain apartheid, has dismayed many South Africans by refusing to apologize for the past. De Klerk still maintains that race classification and the apartheid laws built upon it were instituted with the best of intentions.

“This was, at the time, a very honest approach,” said Ivan Lambinon, the current director of the government’s population register. “It was an objective way of saying, ‘This is how we feel South Africa should develop.’ ”

The act and other apartheid laws determined from birth which school a person could attend, where he could live, whom he could have sex with and whom he could marry. Hundreds of thousands of people were hauled into court and jailed for violating those laws.

Each year, thousands of people applied to have their race changed, completing lengthy forms and offering letters of endorsement. Then they submitted to humiliating interviews, which often included an inspection of the kinkiness of their hair, in the hope that they could move up one rung on the ladder of privilege.

At the height of apartheid, 10 clerks in Pretoria sifted through applications for reclassification. But the number assigned to the task recently dwindled to one. Last year the government approved 455 applications for race reclassification, 175 for Colored to white and 280 for black to Colored.

In 1986, following the abolition of laws prohibiting mixed marriages and interracial sex, the government removed the race classification notation on new identity documents. Vast numbers of blacks applied for new papers, and the government says that since then it has issued new identity documents to 8 million South Africans.