Parliament in S. Africa ends itself


CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- South Africa's Parliament essentially voted itself out of existence yesterday, overwhelmingly approving a new constitution that clears the way for a government dominated by the country's black majority.

"The end of this Parliament is not a funeral, but a birth," President F. W. de Klerk told the legislature. "It is not an end, but a new beginning.

"There will be another parliament but this time a parliament without a legitimacy problem. The parliamentary traditions will continue, but this time without the albatross of injustice, exclusion and discrimination hanging around its neck."

The 237-to-45 ratification vote came in the late afternoon, after a long night of bargaining with groups opposed to the new constitution and a long day of emotional speeches as members of Parliament's three segregated chambers -- one each for whites, Indians and mixed-race coloreds -- bid farewell to their institutions.

The white House of Assembly, which dominated the legislature, overwhelmingly supported the new charter, 132 to 42.

However, in keeping with the fluidity of South Africa's current political situation, yesterday may not have been the final sitting of the tripartite Parliament before the April 27 national elections.

Negotiators for the government, the African National Congress and the Freedom Alliance -- a group that opposes the constitution -- ended marathon talks early yesterday by agreeing to keep talking for another month.

The negotiators stipulated that if acceptable amendments can be worked out, the Parliament would reconvene to consider them.

The Freedom Alliance wants a constitution that delegates more power to the country's regions, while lessening the central government's authority.

The alliance's members are white right-wing groups, plus Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and representatives of two independent homelands set up under apartheid as "countries" for South Africa's blacks.

The alliance agreed with the government and the ANC to consider reopening talks in January on the basis of a draft agreement committing them to support the election.

Separate talks between the ANC and the Afrikaner Volksfront, a member of the Freedom Alliance seeking a separate homeland for the white Afrikaner population, will also continue.

The howling of a summer gale whipping through this port city resonated in the rhetoric inside the legislative buildings as more than one speaker remarked on the winds of change sweeping through the country.

The final word went to Mr. de Klerk. The day before he had launched his National Party's campaign for the April elections saying it was a battle "between the new National Party and the old ANC," which is heavily favored to win this first non-racial election.

But yesterday, the man who began this process four years ago, put on his statesman's hat, closing the session with a brief, poignant speech:

"By accepting a new constitution, we took South Africa over the threshold of history into a new era with all its dangers, opportunities and challenges.

"Over the past week, I sat and listened patiently to the attacks andrecriminations, insults and condemnations emanating from

certain benches -- often from former personal friends," he said of the debate on the constitution.

"I listened well. I re-examined myself before God and my conscience. And I wish to say here today that I am more convinced than ever that I made the right choices.

"There is no other way to insure justice than the democratic way of offering full participation to all South Africans. Every form of racism and discrimination has to be opposed."

The loudest discordant notes came from the Conservative Party, which also seeks an Afrikaner state.

"Everyone wants us to get on a train to a destination that we don't want to go to," party leader Ferdi Hartzenberg told journalists earlier in the day.

"This is a train to communism, not a train to freedom," he said.

"If the constitution is passed in this form, the Conservative Party will begin a struggle for our freedom that will certainly not end until we are free," said Corne Mulder, another Conservative Party leader.

When the Conservative Party members finished their remarks, the members of that party stood up and sang "Die Stem," the country's current national anthem.

Only members of the Conservative Party stood for what most thought was the first time the anthem has been sung in Parliament.

Following the singing, a member of the spectators' gallery was ushered out by guards as he shouted at Mr. de Klerk in Afrikaans.

Later, two Conservative Party legislators were forced to leave the hall by the speaker when they refused to retract their shouts of "Traitor" made as the vote was taken.

For the Parliament, it was a rare day in the spotlight as this body has been forced to the wings of South Africa's political stage, first by the negotiations that came up with the constitution, and now by the new Transitional Executive Council, a multiparty, multiracial group that has considerable control over the government leading up to the elections.

In addition to the constitution, the Parliament passed legislation setting up an independent commission to conduct the April election and a measure to give the port of Walvis Bay, currently South African territory, to Namibia, the country that surrounds it.

The constitution passed yesterday sets up a government of national unity that will run South Africa for five years as it works out a final version of the constitution according to principles approved by the negotiators.

The first president, who will be chosen by the 400 members of the National Assembly picked in the April 27 vote, is expected to be ANC chief Nelson Mandela. But his Cabinet will include members from every significant party and the president is required to seek their consensus on decisions.

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