President Pieter W. Botha, hoping to accelerate the pace of political reform in South Africa, said Tuesday that he will participate personally in new negotiations with black leaders to develop a "power-sharing" constitution.
Botha told the opening session of Parliament that he sees this as the only way to resolve the country's problems peacefully. He said he is "giving serious consideration to ways and means that will enable the state president to be more directly involved in negotiations with black leaders."
Although Botha gave no details of what he is planning, his decision to exercise his personal leadership on the reform issue, taking over direct responsibility from ministers in his Cabinet, suggested a new urgency in the government's search for a political system that will reconcile the blacks' demand for majority rule with white fears of domination.
Security Top Priority
But Botha, responding to the rightward swing in the whites-only parliamentary elections two weeks ago, also declared that security is still his government's highest priority. He warned that tougher curbs will be imposed on opposition groups promoting change outside parliamentary or constitutional channels.
The new restrictions, according to government sources, will probably include a prohibition on foreign financing of opposition groups, a ban on political activities by trade unions, further censorship of the news media and controls on anti-government speeches and rallies on university campuses.
'The Road Ahead'
Botha said that the victory of his National Party in the May 6 election "confirms the government's point of departure that security, order and stability in all our communities are preconditions for reform and that the proponents of radicalism and violence will have to renounce that course before they may participate in constitutional process."
The emphasis in Botha's low-key, moderate speech, entitled "The Road Ahead," was on reform and negotiation in what Botha called "the broadening of democracy" to include the country's 25 million blacks.
The government's major reform initiative continues to be a multiracial national council, first proposed by Botha a year and a half ago. It would give the voteless black majority a voice in decision-making and serve as a forum for writing a new constitution.
But the proposed council has been rejected by most black leaders, who consider it another attempt to perpetuate minority white rule. The government is rewriting legislation that would establish the council to take into account some of the black criticism and thus attract black participation.
Botha's National Party had sought a mandate this month from white voters to accelerate and broaden its step-by-step reforms. And despite attacks from the left and the far right, the party increased its majority in the House of Assembly, the white chamber of Parliament. There are separate chambers for Indian and Colored (mixed-race) representatives but none for blacks.
The election was "a clear endorsement," Botha said, of the National Party's insistence on "a group approach" to reform, and he pledged not only to protect minority rights in any new political system but to enforce those laws that underpin apartheid, South Africa's system of racial separation and minority white rule.
"It is not possible to talk about the protection of minority groups and the prevention of domination unless groups enjoy statutory recognition and the relationship among them is regulated constitionally," Botha said.
"The purpose is neither to discriminate nor to detract from human dignity. But we simply cannot close our eyes to the hard realities of our circumstances, nor to what has happened in similar circumstances elsewhere in the world, nor, for example, to what is happening in Zimbabwe now."
He was referring to government plans to end special white parliamentary representation in neighboring Zimbabwe, formerly white-ruled Rhodesia.
Stoffel van der Merwe, the deputy minister for information, said the government's whole reform effort now depends on its ability to draw black leaders into negotiations. He described Botha's participation as "new and significant."
"We can't go ahead with the majority of reforms until people come forward from other (racial) groups for negotiations," Van der Merwe said.
For this reason, he said, the government plans to continue and perhaps expand programs, such as new housing, improved education and vocational training and job creation, in response to black grievances but will not proceed with political reform without negotiations with black leaders.
While most blacks, supported by liberal whites, believe that repeal of the Group Areas Act, which requires racial segregation of residential neighborhoods and many business districts, should be the next major item on the reform agenda, the government believes that it, too, should be "the subject of negotiations as part of a package deal with a new constitution," Van der Merwe told reporters.
Wants Blacks to Vote
Van der Merwe, a key strategist in the Nationalists' reform effort, said the government hopes that urban blacks across the political spectrum will take part in the municipal elections planned for October, 1988, so that there will be a democratic test of their strength.
"Self-appointed leaders won't be regarded seriously until they have proved themselves by the electoral process," Van der Merwe said, implying that the government will not negotiate with those, among them virtually all the anti-apartheid opposition, who refuse to participate in government-run elections. "We would like to create structures in which urban black people can elect leaders to participate in the negotiations."