- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 8, 2004

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — President Thabo Mbeki yesterday welcomed a decision by the New National Party to wage all future elections under the banner of his African National Congress — a move seen as the death knell of the party that gave South Africa apartheid.

The decision was announced Saturday by Marthinus van Schalkwyk, head of the NNP — the successor to the National Party that created apartheid — at the party’s federal council meeting in Johannesburg.

Although the NNP is not formally disbanding, Mr. van Schalkwyk said, he would be joining the ANC — his party’s chief foe during close to half a century of white-minority rule — within a few weeks and urged his followers to do the same. Mr. van Schalkwyk serves as minister of environmental affairs and tourism in Mr. Mbeki’s government.

Under a special agreement with the ANC, Mr. van Schalkwyk’s followers will be allowed to hold membership in both parties. NNP parliamentarians who cross over to the ruling party during a two-week window starting in September 2005 also will retain their seats.

If all seven of the NNP’s representatives join the ANC, once banned by their party, the ANC will hold 286, or more than 71 percent, of Parliament’s 400 seats.

Speaking at a Women’s Day event in Johannesburg, Mr. Mbeki said the decision was historic.

He said he “could not recall any other party of oppression saying: ‘We are defeated; we cease to exist; we join those that we had oppressed,’” the South African Press Association reported.

“The ANC views this move as a positive step in South Africa’s political development and believes it will contribute to building an inclusive and nonracial society,” the party said in a separate statement issued yesterday.

Opposition parties, however, slammed the decision as a betrayal of NNP voters.

“Not one of the founding members of the National Party in 1914, or any of the party’s previous leaders, could have predicted that the party would be destroyed in such a tragic and dishonorable way by being swallowed up by the ANC,” said Pieter Mulder, head of the NNP’s former ally, the hard-line Freedom Front Plus.

Helen Zille, spokeswoman for the main opposition Democratic Alliance, called the NNP decision “the final nail in their coffin.”

“The leadership — van Schalkwyk — needs to keep a job. The party is dead,” Mrs. Zille said.

Political analysts said the decision resulted from the NNP’s dismal showing in recent elections.

The NNP’s predecessor, the National Party, once could count on the unquestioning support of most Afrikaners, the descendants of 17th century Dutch and French settlers. Elected in 1948, it presided over 48 years of systematic and often brutal oppression of the country’s black majority.

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