CAPE TOWN — PRESIDENT Frederik de Klerk's decision to scrap remaining apartheid laws has undercut his political foes on both flanks and paved the way for a period of joint rule and nation-building. ``The main focus will now switch to transforming the state,'' says independent analyst Frederik van Zyl Slabbert. ``De Klerk will invite representatives of other parties - like the ANC [African National Congress] - to become part of state structures in conjunction with a program of massive socio-economic upliftment.''
Mr. De Klerk identified the challenge of interracial nation-building as one of the most pressing issues facing the country.
``We lack the natural cohesion of a single culture and language,'' he said. ``Consequently, we shall have to rely heavily on the other cornerstone - that of common values and ideals.''
To set the ball rolling, De Klerk released a ``Manifesto for the New South Africa'' based on universally accepted principles such as the rule of law, justice for all, a justiciable bill of rights and universal suffrage in a free-market economy.
The draft document, which is the first challenge to the ANC's more socialist Freedom Charter, is meant to act as a focus for a national debate to define common values and ideals.
But De Klerk's critics said the manifesto leaned more toward order than liberty and failed to give a precise definition of individual rights.
De Klerk's promise to repeal ``within months'' the three cornerstones of apartheid - laws that enforce race classification and segregation in residential living and land allocation - will help improve the climate for negotiations.
``The battle against apartheid is over,'' said an editorial in the Sunday Times of Johannesburg. ``The greater battle for a democratic South Africa has begun.''
De Klerk's move will also accelerate the lifting of international sanctions against South Africa.
Western governments praised De Klerk and hinted the lifting sanctions would begin once the laws were repealed and political prisoners freed.
The first to move is likely to be made by the European Community, followed by the United States around May and the Commonwealth at its summit in October. A US State Department spokeswoman praised De Klerk for his ``courageous statesmanship,'' and a White House spokesman described his moves as ``a big step in the right direction.''
British Prime Minister John Major called for the immediate lifting of sanctions, and Canada and Australia urged a review of Commonwealth sanctions.
Both the government and the ANC have agreed that the removal of remaining obstacles to negotiation should be completed by April 30.
The forum for deciding the composition of some form of interim government will be a multiparty conference of political leaders with proven support.
The conference, which has been endorsed by the ANC, will also negotiate a set of constitutional principles and determine the body that will draw up the new constitution.
But analysts doubt the conference will begin before the ANC's decisive meeting in June, when its leadership will be reelected.
The ANC - and its rivals the Pan African Congress and Azapo - demand an elected Constituent Assembly, but De Klerk favors the multiparty conference as the constitution-making body.
De Klerk said he would not hand over sovereignty to an interim government but was prepared to discuss ``transitional arrangements'' on legislative and executive levels to give the leaders of the negotiating parties ``a voice in the formulation of important policy decisions.''
ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela criticized De Klerk for omitting to deal with the freeing political prisoners, amnesty for exiles, and a review of arbitrary security legislation.
``These omissions suggest a reluctance on the government's part to relinquish the inordinate powers it wields in terms of these laws,'' Mr. Mandela said. ``This underscores the urgency of the installation of an interim government reflective of the political forces in our country.''
Mandela called on the world not to be ``too hasty'' about scrapping sanctions.
He chided De Klerk for allowing white councilmen and parents to dictate the pace of racial integration in local government and schools.
De Klerk warned that the government would resort to tighter security measures if undemocratic activities continued under the guise of ``mass action.''
Legislators of the right-wing Conservative Party protested the demise of the Group Areas Act, the Land Acts, and the race classification law by branding De Klerk a ``traitor'' and walking out of Parliament.
``It was rather immature and silly behavior from people whose sun is setting very fast,'' says Zac de Beer, leader of the liberal Democratic Party. ``These people have no real role to play anymore.''
The action of the right-wingers seemed futile next to De Klerk's moves, which appear to be consolidating a growing multiracial block of South Africans.
While De Klerk was sounding the death-knell for apartheid in Parliament, a crowd of about 15,000 marched through the streets of Cape Town in support of an elected Constituent Assembly to draw up a new constitution.
Supporters of the ANC were joined - for the first time in a public demonstration - by the leaders and supporters of the Pan Africanist Congress, which employs more radical rhetoric to denounce the country's white rulers.
But De Klerk appeared to remain in control of the process of fundamental change he embarked on a year ago.
``In terms of formulating a coherent strategy for transition, the ANC has been completely out maneuvered,'' Slabbert says.