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S. Africa proposals to modify race laws under heavy fire

Intense debate is under way here as South Africa tries to find a new political system that will satisfy blacks and whites -- and provide peace and stability.

The government set the ball rolling by appointing a committee of 24 members of Parliament to hear evidence about possible alternatives to the present system , under which the whites have complete political control because they alone have the vote.

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The government's own plan was to introduce various concessions. These would have given people of mixed descent (known here as Coloreds) and the Asians (people who whites generally regard as "more sophisticated" than the blacks and who are "closer" to the whites culturally and socially) some sort of say in government.

It would do this by creating two extra parliaments and a central "council of Cabinets." However, the scheme was widely attacked for being clumsy and unrealistic. For example, it left out the blacks, who constitute about three- quarters of the population.

Even so, many conservative supporters of the National Party government considered the plan dangerously liberal.

To gain time, the government resorted to the familiar strategy of appointing a commission of inquiry, a step that would postpone any action for the moment.

Instead, this has increased the fury of the debate. That much was obvious when the commission sat in public in Cape Town on Jan. 18. Any hope the government might have had that its own scheme would attract support was shattered. Even right-wing groups that traditionally support the National Party criticized it severely, as did senior Afrikaner businessmen and a string of Afrikaner academics.

The most important and influential of those to give evidence was Prof. Ben Vosloo, professor of political science and public administration at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa's premier Afrikaans-speaking university and traditionally the National Party's "think tank."

Professor Vosloo said that the commission, which consists only of whites, was in no position to produce a final blueprint for a new constitutional framework. He added that a completely multiracial committee or council should be set up to control evolutionary change step by step.

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As for the government's own proposals which exclude black Africans, it was like producing "Hamlet, the play, without having Hamlet, the character, on stage."

He proposed that a wide range of racialist laws should be repealed to help create the "right political climate" for evolutionary change. These include laws prohibiting interracial marriages, and others enforcing compulsory social segregation.

Leading newspapers that usually support the government immediately supported Professor Vosloo and gave his views wide coverage.

At the same time, a widely respected Nationalist newspaper columnist declared passionately: "Hard, cold, even-handed negotiation [between black and white] is now on the order paper. . . . The whites will do their share to arrive at a meaningful settlement that will bind us together as partners."

But most South Africans realize it will be difficult to find a compromise that will suit everybody. Even though the whites generally are coming to accept that political reform is essential, they are worried about losing political power or, as it is usually put, "control of our own affairs."

And black hard-liners are equally adamant that what they are after is one-man , one-vote, which would give blacks overwhelming political control of this currently white-ruled country.

Nonetheless, some blacks have come forward, including representatives of the huge Inkatha organization headed by Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, chief of the Zulu tribe.


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