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S. Africa Law Bans Discrimination

January 26, 2000

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ South Africa’s Parliament, once the rubber stamp for apartheid legislation, came full circle Wednesday when its upper house approved a law banning unfair discrimination.

The bill will outlaw all forms of prejudice based on race, gender, sexual persuasion, disability and other grounds. If approved by the lower house and president as expected, the bill also will prohibit hate speech.

``Our past history of unfair discrimination has left its indelible mark on South African society,″ Justice Minister Penuell Maduna said when introducing the legislation in the National Assembly. ``It requires concrete measures to ensure that human dignity, the achievement of equality, the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism become endemic in society.″

Under the proposal, which is required by the Constitution, people accused of discrimination will have to prove their innocence and may be ordered to pay damages. Special equality courts will be set up to deal with complaints.

The predominantly white opposition Democratic Party voted against the law, objecting to provisions enabling the justice minister to appoint magistrates and judges to the equality courts without adequate consultation.

``We cannot vote for a bill that undermines the Constitution,″ said the party’s human rights spokeswoman, Dene Smuts.

The most vocal critic has been South Africa’s insurance industry, which claims it will enable policy holders to challenge all underwriting decisions and thus bring large increases in premiums and costs.

The New National Party, heir of apartheid’s architects, said that despite the bill’s weaknesses, it was necessary to address the injustices of the past.

Earlier drafts specifically banned discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic status and against AIDS victims. These provisions were watered down after an outcry from business organizations. The government has said it will consider reinstating them.

``I think these are very crucial grounds on which people are discriminated against on a daily basis,″ said Thabani Masuku, an analyst with the Institute for the Democracy in South Africa.

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