April 11, 2005

Ruling party of apartheid era votes to dissolve

The party which introduced apartheid and enforced racial segregation in South Africa for nearly 50 years disbanded and apologised for its racist policies after an attempt to reinvent itself failed. The New National party, renamed from the National party in 1997, voted itself out of existence after several electoral defeats. The once mighty and arrogant party ended its days with an apology for its apartheid policies. "The National party brought development to a section of South Africa, but also brought suffering through a system grounded on injustice," its former leader, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, told the party's federal council, while putting forward a motion to disband.

The move passed by a margin of 88 in favour, two against and three abstentions. The meeting was of the NNP members who joined the African National Congress (ANC) when the two parties merged in 2004. Now they will simply be members of the ANC. "No party ... could hope to successfully atone and move ahead in the same vehicle," said Mr Van Schalkwyk, environmental affairs and tourism minister in President Thabo Mbeki's cabinet. He said that by dissolving, the party was throwing off the yoke of history and contributing to finally ending the "division of the South African soul". The NNP was virtually wiped out in elections in 2004, winning less than 2% of the vote, while the ANC won a two-thirds majority.

Writing in the African National Congress' online publication, ANC Today, President Mbeki said that the decision to dissolve the New National Party constituted historically important strides towards breaking with a past that divided the country into two warring and implacably opposed factions, one white and the other black. The dissolution of the party was on the contrary sharply criticised by the former National party leader and apartheid South African president FW de Klerk. He said the NNP's demise left the country without an effective opposition to the ANC. The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, said it would try to capture the NNP's supporters. (The Guardian, London)

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