De Klerk government reform opposed

AMID opposition from all quarters, President F W de Klerk opened an extraordinary session of parliament yesterday with renewed determination to do away with the Westminster system of rule he has loyally served for the last 19 years on behalf of South Africa's white minority.

Organisations as far apart as the African National Congress (ANC) and, on the right, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Conservative Party (CP), have urged Mr de Klerk to call off a parliamentary session whose stated objective is to clear the legislative path for the establishment of an interim government.

One of the purposes of the session is to pass legislation enabling Mr de Klerk to appoint non-whites to the cabinet. The ANC considers this legislation to be unnecessary because it is not by presidential appointment, it says, but by democratic elections that an interim government of national unity will be created. Inkatha and the CP reject any legislation that will accelerate the movement away from the present order towards an electorally representative interim arrangement.

Trapped in the middle, but concerned to woo the right, Mr de Klerk stressed yesterday that decisions in what he calls 'the transitional parliament' would not be taken by a simple majority but by special, increased majorities. 'Excessive concentration of power in the hands of only one party or one person . . . has to be prevented,' Mr de Klerk said.

At a time when he is widely perceived to have taken a pounding in negotiations with the ANC, Mr de Klerk felt a need also to re-emphasise his long-standing commitment to the notion of strong regional government - the aim being to ensure that minorities will not be swamped by an ANC majority. He also went out of his way to criticise those who indulge in 'inciting speeches and propaganda' and then proceeded to engage in his - and the right wing's - favourite rhetorical sport, bashing 'the Communist radicalists' in the ANC.

One issue he did not mention yesterday, but which will be of special interest during the scheduled 10-day session, was proposed government legislation for a general amnesty. Such legislation, the details of which are not yet known, is rejected by the ANC who see it as an attempt by the government 'to pardon themselves'.

An ANC demonstration earlier was a festive, irreverent affair. About 4,000 people gathered outside the parliament building to hear jokes by the likes of the Communist Party chairman, Joe Slovo, at the expense of the 'nonsensical' goings-on in the legislative chamber. None more nonsensical, or more liable to distress many of Mr de Klerk's white constituency, than a bill tabled by the government to outlaw all gambling.

(Photograph omitted)