Last sitting for MPs of apartheid

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PRESIDENT F W de Klerk opened the last session of parliament in Cape Town yesterday, its purpose to approve South Africa's new constitution and, dissolving itself, write apartheid's epitaph.

Employing South Africa's most well-worn adjective, Mr de Klerk said that the session would be 'historic'. Parliament, he declared, would probably never sit in its present form again. The constitution would rid South Africa of an albatross that had hung round its neck for 300 years.

No doubt existed in parliamentary circles yesterday that the new constitution, ratified in the presence of Nelson Mandela and other leaders last week, would be approved. Despite tensions within government, the ruling National Party's in-built parliamentary majority, bolstered by the liberal Democratic Party, guarantees that the constitution will become law.

The session, due to end in mid- December, will probably witness sound and fury from the minority Conservative Party (CP), whose leaders cling to the notion of creating an independent Afrikaner state within South Africa's borders.

Mr de Klerk said the constitution was as fair, balanced and reasonable as could be expected. 'No party has won. South Africa and all its people will indeed be able to win if they make the best of the opportunities the constitution has to offer. Without the constitution all of us would have been losers. Now, everyone can become a winner.'

He said he hoped all South Africans would bury the hatchet, abide by the rules and concentrate on the new game: the coming election. The referee will be the Transitional Executive Council, a multi-party body due to sit in Pretoria from 1 December and work intimately with government to pave the way for a free and fair poll on 27 April.

Among those who say they will not participate are the white right wing, 100 of whose supporters protested outside parliament yesterday and handed in a letter demanding that President de Klerk should call a whites-only election.

In another Cape Town demonstration, 20 supporters of the radical Pan-Africanist Congress caroused through the streets celebrating the release of three black men charged with the murder of the Californian student Amy Biehl. Charges were withdrawn against three of six men accused of stabbing and beating Ms Biehl to death.