CAPE TOWN, South Africa — This country adopted a new constitution Wednesday that guarantees equal rights for all and completes South Africa's official transformation from the injustice of apartheid to democracy.
The Constitutional Assembly voted 421 to 2 to pass the 150-page document. There were 10 abstentions.
"Our pledge is: Never and never again shall the laws of our land rend our people apart or legalize their oppression and repression," President Nelson Mandela said.
The constitution will take effect gradually over the next three years, then come into force fully with the next national elections in 1999.
Smaller parties feared the charter would fail to protect minority rights and opposed it. The Afrikaner nationalist Freedom Front abstained on the ratification vote. The Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party, which boycotted the Constitutional Assembly, was absent to show its opposition.
"We see no salvation in this constitution for the Afrikaner people or for any other nations," said a statement from 31 groups--including farmers and mine workers' unions--representing Afrikaners, descendants largely of South Africa's early Dutch settlers.
The African National Congress and the white-led National Party it succeeded two years ago endorsed the plan as the foundation of a new South Africa.
The constitution calls for a majority-rule government, with a party that wins more than half the seats in Parliament in a national election having the power to choose a president, who would form the Cabinet.
That would differ from the current system, which required Mandela to include in the Cabinet minority parties that received at least 10% of the vote in the 1994 election.
A bill of rights guarantees the rights to adequate housing, food, water, education and health care--all of which were denied the black majority during the apartheid era. It also bans discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, pregnancy or marital status.
The bill's provisions also include:
* A right-to-life clause that analysts say would forbid a return to capital punishment, abolished in 1995.
* A clause giving women the right to control reproduction.
* A prohibition on detention without trial. Such detentions were used extensively under white rule to crush black opposition.
* A limited freedom of speech clause that prohibits so-called hate speech and incitement to violence or war.
* A protection, included as a concession to right-wing whites, of group rights to cultural, linguistic and religious association.