Bishop Desmond Tutu said Friday that "the chances for peaceful change in South Africa now are virtually nil" because of President Pieter W. Botha's failure to pledge an end to apartheid and to launch the sweeping political, economic and social reforms that might halt the continuing civil unrest here.
Tutu, the Anglican bishop of Johannesburg and the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate, gave his most pessimistic appraisal ever of his nation's future. "I'm scared. I love this country, and I don't want to see it destroy itself," he said. "But I am scared, more than I have ever been."
Like other opponents of apartheid, South Africa's system of racial separation and minority white rule, Tutu said he was "devastated" by Botha's refusal Thursday in a major policy speech on race relations to commit himself to any specific reforms and by the conditions Botha attached to his promise to negotiate solutions to the country's problems with black leaders.
May Shift on Sanctions
"I don't think Mr. Botha is interested in peaceful negotiation," Tutu said, his eyes filling with tears and his voice cracking with emotion. "He is aware of his military strength. . . . He is interested in bludgeoning blacks into submission."
Tutu, who had earlier set an 18- to 24-month timetable for the imposition of Western economic sanctions on South Africa to give reforms here a chance, said he is now considering whether to call for them immediately.
"Short of a major miracle, short of a decisive intervention by the international community," the black prelate told newsmen, "we are for the birds. I am talking about the death of our children. I am talking about the fact that there are people who are intent on killing us. I am talking about life and death."
As harsh as Tutu's judgment was, it was shared widely within the black community Friday as Botha's speech, what he called his "manifesto for a new South Africa," was discussed and weighed. Few whites, even Botha's fellow Afrikaners, who hold most political power here, sprang to his defense.
But Botha, speaking again Friday in Durban at the Natal provincial congress of his ruling National Party, expressed amusement at what he called "the confusion of Babel" surrounding his speech Thursday.
"Give them time to study the speech," he told the delegates. "Apparently some have slept badly last night. Let us hope that reason triumphs, that reasonableness prevails."
No Black Equality
Botha pledged in his speech Thursday that the political domination of the country by its 4.9 million whites would give way gradually to "cooperative co-responsibility" with the black majority of 25 million and smaller Indian and Colored, or mixed-race, groups. But he ruled out any one-man, one-vote electoral system, saying it would amount to suicide for the whites. And he refused to commit himself to a "declaration of intent," sought by black leaders, to end apartheid.
Contrary to widespread expectations here, he hardened rather than softened his conditions for the release of Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned leader of the African National Congress. And he did not go beyond his pledges in January on bringing blacks into the central government, on establishing a common South African citizenship for blacks and whites alike and on not pushing rural tribal homelands into unwanted "independence."
"Tremendous, unprecedented expectations had been raised, most of all by the government spokesmen and its own media, of the importance of Mr. Botha's address and the announcement he was expected to make," the Rev. C.F. Beyers Naude, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said Friday.
"These hopes have been dashed equally by what Mr. Botha did say as well as what he left unsaid. Here was a country, and a world outside, waiting for a major statement on future policy that could bring peace. It was an outstanding opportunity for a statesmanlike declaration of intent. What emerged was deeply disappointing and distressing."
Even staunchly pro-government, pro-nationalist papers were unable to hide their disappointment over the statement, which the news media here and abroad had promoted for more than a week as a major change in policy, if not the end of apartheid.
The leading Afrikaans-language newspaper Beeld, while printing no direct comment, published a cartoon showing a man with a globe for a head covering his ears in apparent incredulity and disillusionment at what the president was saying.
Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, leader of the liberal white opposition Progressive Federal Party, commented: "Overall, we have not been given much new hope, but we can take some comfort that he has not gone back on what he stated before."
The country's four major business groups, representing Afrikaners, English and blacks, expressed their sharp disappointment with Botha's failure to put into action his announced commitment to reforms and his refusal to declare the government's intention to end apartheid.
Both industry and commerce see an urgent need to go faster and further than Botha plans, the organizations said, stressing the urgent need not just to open a dialogue with the black community but to show "concrete results" as well.
The English-language newspaper Business Day went further and called in an unprecedented front-page editorial for Botha's resignation, saying he is "part of the problems of this country, not of the solutions," and had shown himself to be nothing but "a hick politician" incapable of statesmanship in his handling of the current crisis.
On the Johannesburg money market, the South African rand dropped to its lowest level ever against the American dollar, falling 13% in an hour from 44.5 U.S. cents to 38.5 cents before rising again to close at about 42 cents.
Moderate black politicians, the leaders with whom Botha said he wants to work out a power-sharing arrangement for the future, were also critical, saying that Botha's flat refusal to commit himself to ending apartheid had cut the ground from beneath them and made negotiations all but impossible.
Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, leader of the Zulu tribe, the nation's largest group of blacks, said that without a "declaration of intent" to end apartheid, there is no way he or other black moderates could open discussions with Botha. Buthelezi also said that unless the government releases Mandela, the African National Congress leader, such talks would never win black public acceptance.
Even Lennox Sebe, president of Ciskei, a rural tribal homeland whose "independence" is recognized only by South Africa, declared angrily that Botha seemed determined to turn black moderates into radicals with an approach that fails, despite many promises, to meet the needs of blacks and assuage their anger.
"The troubles we have had in the past will seem like a Sunday picnic if they do this," Sebe warned in Bishio, the Ciskeian capital outside King William's Town. "When the moment of truth arrived, not even one of the most moderate expectations were met. . . . Do not play games with the lives of people. While you are indulging in your political fun and games, other people are engaged in a struggle for life and death."
In Lusaka, Zambia, a spokesman for the outlawed African National Congress asserted that Botha's failure to outline a program of reform and to launch immediate, open-ended negotiations with black leaders would fuel the flames of revolt within South Africa.
"This will only add to the determination to make apartheid unworkable and the country ungovernable," Tom Sebina, an ANC information officer, said by telephone. "The armed struggle continues, and will grow."