'Terror' and the judge finally meet as equals: Power changes hands in new SA provinces

THE LAST time 'Terror' Lekota bowed to a judge was in 1988 when he was sentenced to 12 years in jail for high treason. Yesterday morning he bowed again, this time to a judge who had just declared him premier of the Orange Free State.

The setting was the Raadsaal, the council hall, in Bloemfontein, symbolic seat of Afrikaner power in the Free State since the arrival of the first settlers in 1839. The occasion was the first sitting of the province's first democratic legislature, 24 of whose elected representatives - of a total of 30 - were members of the African National Congress.

The order of proceedings was set out in a 17-page document. This is how it began:

1.1 09:55 Bells ring until 10:10.

1.2 10:00 The Serjeant-at-Arms (Mr Mogotsi) with the Mace, followed by the Chairperson, (Mr Justice Lichtenberg, Judge President) and the Table Assistant (Mr Mahase) enter the Chamber from the right- hand side of the Chair; and the Provisional Secretary (Mr Nordier) and the Returning Officers (Mr Stapelberg, Miss du Toit and Mrs Buffel) from the left-hand side of the Chair.

1.3 The Serjeant-at-Arms announces the Chairperson as follows: 'The Honourable Mr Justice Lichtenberg, Judge President of the Orange Free State Provincial Division of the Supreme Court . . .'

And so on. Identical ceremonies were performed yesterday morning in eight of South Africa's nine provinces: the ninth, KwaZulu-Natal, will hold its first parliamentary sitting on Wednesday, the day after Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as president in Pretoria.

If all you had to go on yesterday in Bloemfontein was the document of proceedings you would have been hard-pressed to believe that contained here was a record of one of the most momentous political transformations the world has witnessed. Inside the august chamber itself - wood panels, high white ceiling, stained glass - the mood offered no suggestion that a revolution was afoot.

Mr Justice Lichtenberg, in black robes, sat on the chair at one end of the chamber with two rows of 'honourable members' to his right and, across an empty space directly in front of him, two more rows of honourable members to his left. All the men wore dark suits, the seven women dresses. Two of the 24 ANC members were white, Afrikaners both, the rest black. The opposition was represented by four National Party men and a man and a woman from the right-wing Freedom Front.

The judge swore in each of the 30 legislators and proceeded briskly to the high point of the ceremony, the induction of Mr Lekota as premier.

The parliamentary leader of the National Party, Louis van der Watt, stood up to congratulate him, and the more senior of the two Freedom Front members, Abrie Oosterhuys, followed suit.

'Mr Lekota and I,' Mr Oosterhuys said, 'have both been front-row rugby forwards in our time, and from now we will play on a different field. There will be many mauls but I hope he will not take it personally because I act for the goals of my people, the Afrikaners.'

Mr Lekota smiled, nodded, took notes. Few people, including his ANC comrades, know his real name is Patrick. 'Terror' was what they called him on the football field in his youth. At 45, Mr Lekota is a stout bundle of energy apparently unaffected by an eight- year stint on Robben Island with Mr Mandela, numerous detentions without trial during the 1980s, and another year in jail after his conviction for treason. He was freed on appeal in December 1989.

Bloemfontein - South Africa's judicial capital - was where the appeal was heard, where the ANC was founded in 1912 and where yesterday Mr Lekota declared: 'I do hereby swear to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and undertake before those assembled here to hold my office as premier of my province with honour and dignity.'

After the ceremony a white- haired gentleman named Cas Human stood in the centre of the chamber shaking his head. 'I can't quite believe it. It's just starting to filter through my brain that all of a sudden we're in a free democracy,' he said.

Mr Human is a farmer, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, a respected member of his community in Harrismith and a member, since 1992, of the ANC. Charmed first and then persuaded by Mr Lekota, he decided the time had come to shed the prejudices of his past and join hands, as he put it, with the future. Inevitably, his house has been bombed and his children harassed, but from now on he will sit safely in the front row of the provincial parliament.

Mr Human stepped outside into the bright noon sunlight to have his picture taken with his black comrades, and then strolled off with them past the Saturday morning shoppers for a celebration lunch at the H F Verwoerd building, administrative heart of the Free State. Verwoerd, prime minister from 1958 to 1966, was to apartheid what Lenin was to communism.

Officious white civil servants and smiling white policemen ushered Mr Lekota's party into the building, as if saying, 'Here is power, here is the state: take it, it's yours.'

A huge statue of Verwoerd guarded the entrance, in his trademark 'man of granite' pose: stiffly upright, feet apart, fists on hips, stern-jawed, eyes staring into the distance where, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands of apartheid stretched far away.

(Photograph omitted)

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