S. Africa Drops Pillar of Apartheid

But the government may have to use economic pressure to force local councils to accept reform

ANXIOUS whites in this conservative mining town have tried in the past to defy the ruling National Party's efforts to dismantle apartheid. But they were thwarted by a combination of black protest and government pressure. So when the segregation of public facilities becomes illegal today, protest from right-wing councilmen is likely to be muted.

``We will have to wait and see what happens,'' said council chairman Dawid de Ridder, a member of the Conservative Party. ``We have not taken any special precautions, but if we are overwhelmed, we'll have to do something.''

Mr. De Ridder was referring to the resistance mounted by his counterparts in dozens of conservative towns nationwide to block the repeal of one of apartheid's cornerstones.

Although the repeal of the law won't end all statutory discrimination, it marks a milestone in dismantling structures that have made the country an international pariah.

The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act was enacted by a defiant National Party government in 1953. To many blacks, the law - which has enabled councils to segregate public transportation, libraries, swimming pools, rest rooms, elevators, and resorts - symbolizes the most visible and offensive aspects of apartheid. The act was the basis for the erection of ``whites only'' signs at public facilities throughout the country during the 1950s and 60s.

The law offered legal protection for racist views that were fostered among whites during four decades of National Party rule.

Segregation will continue in residential neighborhoods, state-run schools, and the allocation of land. But President Frederik de Klerk has promised that these laws will be repealed next year.

In the past decade or so, the National Party government has condoned the gradual relaxation of segregation in the major cities and towns, and most ``whites only'' signs have disappeared. But - until today - the Separate Amenities Act remained a potent tool for right-wing city councils seeking to halt the relaxation of race policies.

Shortly after Mr. De Klerk was installed last year, he indicated that the law would be eliminated. In the first quarter of this year, councils of major cities and towns desegregated their facilities in preparation for its repeal.

But scores of Conservative Party-controlled councils in rural, mining, and industrial towns began to revert toward more rigid segregation.

Though the Separate Amenities Act was repealed by Parliament in June, its enactment was delayed until Oct. 15 to allow the councils to prepare for the changes. Rather than accept desegregated facilities, many town councils - controlled by both the Conservative and National parties - have opted for a system of differentiated tariffs for entrance to public swimming pools, libraries, and recreation areas.

They hope that by charging exorbitant entrance fees to ``nonresidents'' they will be able to perpetuate whites-only facilities. The continued application of residential segregation laws will ensure that black people, who usually live in far-flung black townships outside the town's municipal boundary, will not qualify as residents.

Some Conservative town councils have prepared for the dismantling of apartheid by closing facilities - like swimming pools and parks - rather than admitting blacks. This is likely to lead to organized resistance from black communities and litigation to test the validity of council actions in court. One government option would be to block funds to councils that refuse to cooperate.

These methods are still fresh in the minds of the 45,000 or so whites of Carletonville. When the right-wing Conservative Party took control of the Carletonville City Council in 1988, one of its first decisions was to re-erect ``whites only'' signs in the town's public places.

The council action led to a sustained and effective boycott of white-run businesses by black consumers from the township of Khutsong - about four miles away. There are 50,000 blacks in Khutsong and more than 100,000 live nearby.

Some businesses that faced closure if the boycott persisted brought legal action against the city councilors. That led to a court order demanding that the apartheid signs be removed. Public areas are now freely used by blacks.

``We have had our share of the limelight,'' said council Chairman De Ridder, recalling the events of the past two years. ``It is the government which is repealing these laws and which must now provide for people's safety.''

Somewhat chastened by experience, Carletonville councilors appear to have accepted the role of reluctant collaborators in the demise of apartheid. The council has instructed its employees at libraries, swimming pools, and recreational areas to admit black patrons from tomorrow onward.

Unlike many other councils, it has not raised entrance fees or closed facilities. ``We have received a number of applications from blacks to belong to the library,'' said librarian Mariette van der Merwe. ``From Tuesday, we will be open to all races and I don't foresee any problems.''

The council-run holiday resort is situated adjacent to the impoverished black township of Khutsong. ``If they pay, they can come in,'' said resort manager Jan Steenkamp, when asked if blacks would be admitted. ``But that doesn't mean I have to eat with them and drink with them,'' he said. ``That's the way I was brought up.''

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