SOUTH Africa's white-dominated Parliament yesterday closed the book on apartheid and brought an end to 83 years of minority rule, approving the country's first nonracial constitution forged during four turbulent years of transition.
For all intents and purposes, it marks the end of the three-chamber Parliament, which represents the country's white, Indian, and mixed-race ``colored'' minorities, but excludes the black majority.
As the vote was taken, five white legislators representing the African National Congress (ANC) shouted ``Amandla'' (which means power in the Xhosa language) and the legislators of the right-wing Conservative Party began singing the Afrikaner anthem ``Die Stem'' (The Voice). Three Conservatives were ordered to leave the chamber after they accused government legislators of being ``traitors'' for supporting the new constitution.
``If one looks back to where we were five years ago, this is little short of a miraculous achievement,'' says David Welsh, professor of political science at the liberal University of Cape Town.
The move was hailed by leaders of the ruling National Party and the ANC, but denounced by legislators of the Conservative Party and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) as a blow to the freedom of the Afrikaner and Zulu minorities.
The new constitution extends the vote to the black majority for the first time in South Africa's 341-year history, and establishes a multiparty government of national unity that will rule during a five-year interim period. The charter goes into effect with the results of the country's first nonracial election on April 27.
The present government will continue to rule until the election, but all its actions will be subject to the scrutiny of a multiracial commission known as the Transitional Executive Council, which is already operating.
The adoption of the new constitution marks the end of an era in South African history that began with the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 when Britain granted independence to two former British colonies - the Cape and Natal - and two former Boer (Afrikaner) Republics in Transvaal Province and the Orange Free State.
It also ends 4 1/2 decades of apartheid rule that institutionalized racial segregation and stripped black South Africans of their human dignity, civil rights, and citizenship, and caused untold suffering and death.
A last-ditch effort by multiparty negotiators to find a formula for including white right-wing and conservative black groups failed Tuesday. But the multiparty negotiators agreed to give the dissenting groups four weeks to consider a proposal that would lead them to take part in the country's April elections.
If the conservative parties of the Freedom Alliance (FA) agree to the formulation, negotiators will meet by Jan. 24. Negotiators are confident
The joint ANC-government proposal, if accepted, will bind the parties of the FA - which include the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront and IFP - to abide by the interim constitution, adhere to the rules and laws governing the transition, and take part in the April election. Parliament may have to convene for a final two-day session if substantive constitutional changes are made.
``The end product is in sight,'' said ANC chief negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday at the end of a grueling 16-hour session between representatives of the ANC, the government, and the FA.
``We are there,'' said chief government negotiator Roelf Meyer. ``The door is not closed,'' he told reporters, referring to the compromise proposal that still holds out the prospect of an all-inclusive agreement by Jan. 24.
President Frederik de Klerk, answering questions from the public on a television phone-in program yesterday, said he was confident the impasse with the conservative parties would be broken within a month.
``We believe that the present interim constitution goes a long way toward addressing the strengths of regional governments,'' he said. ``But, if those powers can be strengthened [further], we are ready to cooperate.''
Ferdi Hartzenberg, the hard-line leader of the Conservative Party, told foreign journalists at a breakfast yesterday that a peace pact between the ANC and Volksfront broke down because the faction of the ANC leading negotiations in Cape Town were ``communists.'' He said the FA would continue to resist a ``transition to communism.'' Lobbying for a homeland
``The Afrikaner will get his freedom eventually in his rightful part of South Africa,'' Mr. Hartzenberg said, adding that it was possible to establish an Afrikaner Volkstaat (homeland) before the April election. ``If ANC President Nelson Mandela says there will definitely be no Volkstaat, then that is when our liberation struggle will start,'' he said.
Professor Welsh doubts that the vast majority of people represented by the FA have an appetite for violent resistance. There may be some right-wing violence in the runup to the election, he says, but this should be containable.
``We now have a liberal democratic constitution, which is supported by 80 percent of the population. To have expected more was always utopian and romantic,'' Welsh says. ``I think there is a fair chance that the adoption of the new constitution will lower the stakes of political conflict and prevent the election blowing the roof off the society. But it is bound to be messy and flawed.''