President F.W. de Klerk Friday proposed the repeal of all major laws enforcing racial discrimination, and pro-apartheid white lawmakers stormed out of Parliament in protest.
Thousands of demonstrators marched outside Parliament and in cities across the country to demand the immediate abolition of apartheid, closure of Parliament, and formation of a multi-racial government. Others stayed away from work in protest.De Klerk's speech, coming one year after he stunned the world by promising to end apartheid, represented another major step toward his promise of sharing power with this country's black majority.
However, scrapping the last of the apartheid laws will not in itself resolve the country's black-white political conflict. De Klerk has said a new power-sharing constitution must be negotiated with black opposition groups before the white-minority government gives up power. Friday, he rejected calls for a multi-racial interim government.
African National Congress leader Walter Sisulu, speaking to an opposition rally in Cape Town, said de Klerk's reforms fell far short of what most South Africans want. "We don't have the vote. This is what our people want today," he said.
However, De Klerk, speaking to the opening session of parliament, said his proposals augur the quick end of sanctioned racial discrimination:
"The repeal of these last remaining discriminatory laws will bring us to the end of an era, an era in which it was sought to deal with the reality of a diversity of peoples . . . by means of discriminatory coercion.
De Klerk said the government will propose scrapping the last three pillars of apartheid. He said it will call for ending outright the Group Areas Act and the land acts, while modifying the Population Registration Act in advance of its abolition.
The Group Areas Act segregates residential areas along racial lines, and the land acts similarly regulate land ownership rights. The population act forces South Africans to register in separate racial groups for political, educational and other purposes.
De Klerk's National Party controls parliament, and repeal of the remaining apartheid laws during this parliamentary session appears certain.
However, de Klerk's speech prompted a walkout by outraged lawmakers of the pro-apartheid Conservative Party, the main white opposition party. Conservative Party lawmakers interrupted the address, storming out of the chamber as the parliamentary speaker roared, "Order, order!"
Some Conservative lawmakers were ordered out after yelling that the president is a "traitor to the nation" and the "hangman of the Afrikaner" - the politically dominant whites of mostly Dutch descent.
De Klerk, who paused during the walkout, appeared unperturbed and continued his speech.