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De Klerk then took a much longer leap of liberalism and declared that the national constitution would be rewritten to provide legal equality for all South Africans, without regard to skin color. And he astounded the world again by proclaiming that much of the vast 42-year-old morass of apartheid laws—thousands of small-print pages of regulations, executive orders, circulars, etc.—would be repealed by the South African parliament sometime before it adjourned this June. This meant that the massive infrastructure that has kept virtually all 30 million South African blacks trapped in squalor on 13% of the nation's land, in the so-called homelands or the teeming townships near major cities, while 5½ million whites controlled the richest 87% of the land, suddenly would be eliminated.
When asked by skeptics if anything could happen to prevent the permanent eradication of apartheid, De Klerk has said, "It is an irreversible process."
De Klerk's promises are the basis for the widening movement to lift sanctions against South Africa. The IOC has laid down conditions for readmitting the country into the Olympic movement, including that the parliament really does abolish those laws, as it seems certain to do, on schedule. Also, the IOC insists that South Africa be accepted into the general African Olympic movement (no problem, since black Africa wants its athletes to compete for money in a nonracist South Africa), that it produce a single, multiracial national Olympic Committee (also no major problem) and that its various sports federations unify so there is only one governing body per sport (a problem because, as a result of apartheid, there have long been rival race-based sports bodies in South Africa and in some cases getting them to merge could be difficult).
IOC vice-president Kevan Gosper, who visited South Africa in late March with the first Olympic delegation to enter the country since 1967, says, "Leading South African sports from nearly a quarter century of darkness does not lend itself to a quick fix. There are entrenched positions that are not easily changed. More than 100 sporting federations are involved."
Sam Ramsamy, a South African of Indian descent, is more optimistic, which is saying something, because he used to direct a militant antiapartheid Olympic committee-in-exile in London. He returned home to Johannesburg this year to become the new chairman of the Interim National Olympic Committee of South Africa (INOCSA), a multiracial transitional body set up to form a single national Olympic committee. "There is a willingness from both whites and blacks to form nonracial bodies," Ramsamy says. "By addressing the inequities of the formerly disenfranchised, we can ensure unity within our sports bodies."
Some of the discord among the national sports bodies is based on points of merit, and some is a mere matter of cheap power grabs, but there is a far more serious dispute over South Africa's swift welcome back to world sport. Many black leaders—particularly abroad—believe that it is all happening too soon.
Former U.S. tennis star Arthur Ashe, who has long been outspoken on the issue of apartheid, says, "One downside of getting rid of sanctions is the perception by white South Africans that they can slow down the pace of reform. But 60 apartheid laws are still in effect. And Nelson Mandela still can't vote, that's the bottom line." Harry Edwards, the Berkeley sociologist who is a consultant to Major League Baseball on racial affairs, says, "It shouldn't just happen on the basis of some promises De Klerk put down on paper. He could be out of office in 1992. An ending to apartheid is not just changing some rules in a book. Actual structural changes in team composition, the organization of sport, access to facilities and common training grounds must occur. We should wait for demonstrable evidence. Remember, Jesse Owens was riding on an integrated, international Olympic team in 1936, but when he came back to the U.S., he had to ride in the back of the bus." And Jesse Jackson says, "More sports participation will just serve to put a fresh face on South Africa's moral decay. Sanctions must be used to free countries of their character deficiencies, not to obscure them."
Mandela's ANC publicly supported the IOC's original conditions for South Africa's readmission, as well as a timetable that would give the nation six months to meet them. But the ANC is not entirely sold on what it sees as the IOC's recent rush to recognition, which has been propelled by IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch's desire to have the first "all-nation" Olympics in decades take place in his hometown of Barcelona. Steve Tshwete, the ANC's chief sports liaison, says, "It's all well for the people at the top to say South Africa is going to the Olympics, but integration of sports must begin at the bottom, and this is not something that can be conveniently hurried."
The crux of the matter is simple: If racial unity in sports is to be meaningful, it must be achieved at the level of ordinary athletes. All people in South Africa must have the same facilities, coaches and training conveniences that have long been provided exclusively for whites. Currently, this is far from reality. While integration has been achieved at the highest level of competition, teams of children from all-black schools in the townships and homelands still compete against teams composed of children from the elite all-white schools. After matches, there is little mixing.
And yet the ANC recognizes that the IOC's action, while it is unlikely to directly bring about any broad change in living conditions for black South Africans, is indeed significant. "As for the Americans' militant opinion that no sanctions should be dropped before full civil rights are granted, no, that is not our position," Tshwete says. "We are seeing a coming together of sporting bodies in a mutual desire for nonracial sport in South Africa. The racists even realize where the future lies. This is not a small victory. It means not just two sports bodies are coming together, but two huge streams of humanity are coming together. This strengthens the whole cause for democracy in this country. It does not end on the cricket pitch or the running track, it goes far beyond."