There is a widespread perception that whole apartheid system continued until the constitutional transition in 1994.    In fact, the dismantling of apartheid began under the presidency of PW Botha.  The main provisions included the following:

All the remaining apartheid measures were abolished during the presidency of FW de Klerk.

In a speech to parliament on 17 June 1991 President De Klerk said that

“The year 1991 will become known in history as the year in which South Africa finally removed statutory discrimination – apartheid – from its system. Now it belongs to history.

I wish to thank Parliament sincerely for its enthusiastic support of this process. I wish to thank you as well for our support of the positive steps directed at instituting a just dispensation – a dispensation in which all South Africans will be able to rely on equal opportunities and equal treatment by the State.

The votes that have just taken place, and in the previous weeks, finally brought to an end an era in which the lives of every South African were affected in the minutest detail by racially based legislation. Now, everybody is free of it. Now, everybody is rid of the restrictions resulting from that racially based legislation. Everybody is free as well from the disparagement and denial which so often were the consequences of the legislation we are repealing. And everybody is liberated from the moral dilemma caused by this legislation which was born and nurtured under different circumstances in a departed era.

Only one final step still has to follow:  A new Constitution for the Republic of South Africa which will guarantee participation and representation to all South Africans within a true democracy and with effective protection of minorities. It has to be achieved by negotiation and is within our reach within a few years. I do not doubt for a moment that we shall succeed.”

The racially based South Africa Constitution Act, No 110 of 1983 was repealed by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993.

The 1993 Constitution completed the abolition of apartheid by creating a common South African citizenship; by making provision for universal non-racial franchise; and by adopting a Charter of Fundamental Rights.  Section 8 of the Charter proclaimed that

Because the Constitution was “the supreme law of the Republic”, “any law or act inconsistent with its provisions shall, unless otherwise provided expressly or by necessary implication in this Constitution, be of no force and effect to the extent of the inconsistency.”

Accordingly, any residual provision in any existing legislation that contravened the Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights was no longer of any force or effect.

The mere repetition of the list of apartheid laws that were repealed between 1982 and 1993 attests to the degree to which apartheid constituted, for so many years, an egregious denial of the fundamental human rights of tens of millions of black, Indian and coloured South Africans.   FW de Klerk used his appearance before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on 14 May 1997 to apologise in his capacity as Leader of the National Party “to the millions of South Africans who suffered the wrenching disruption of forced removals from their homes, businesses and land;  who over the years suffered the shame of being arrested for pass law offences;  who over the centuries had suffered the indignities and humiliation of racial discrimination; who had been prevented from exercising their full democratic rights in the land of their birth;  who were unable to achieve their full potential;  and who in any way suffered as a result of the policies and actions of former governments.”

Perhaps, more important than the apology, FW de Klerk and his colleagues ensured that by the time they handed power to the newly elected Government of National Unity on 10 May 1994 apartheid had been expunged, once and for all, from South Africa’s legal system.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation

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