Menu
Share
Share this story
Close X
 
Switch to Desktop Site

Storm clouds loom in S. Africa Parliament

A major row many develop in the South African Parliament this week when the youthful new leader of the main white opposition party introduces a motion of no confidence in the ruling National Party government.

This no-confidence vote is a traditional measure at the start of a new parliamentary session, but the government is particularly sensitive to criticism this year because it is being forced to backtrack on a number of ideological issues, especially racial problems.

About these ads

TAlse, it expects to be hammered because of disclosures that the secret police have been allowed to snoop on opposition political parties, including opposition members of Parliament.

TPrime Minister Pieter Botha, who sometimes is referred to irreverently as "Piet Vesuvius" because of his quick temper, dislikes criticism in the best of times and is considered particularly touchy when put on the defensive. Mr. Botha may well find his patience stretched thin.

TAnd the opposition Progressive Federal Party, although it has only a handful of seats (17 compared to 135 for the National Party), includes some of the most able debaters in Parliament.

This year they have a new leader, Dr. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, a vigorous former academic who has caught the popular imagination of government opponents after a string of lively public meetings around the country.

Unlike his predecessor, Colin Eglin, Dr. Slabbert has an impeccable Afrikaans back- ground, which is vitally important for a political leader in this country where more than 60 percent of the voters are Afrikaners - and often extremely suspicious of any politician who is not.

Although the government has an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament, it is going into the new session rather defensively. The root of its problem is that its policy of apartheid (enforced social, economic, and political racial segregation) is collapsing in various ways.

The Prime Minister himself has acknowledged that there have to be changes and has promised to get rid of the "offensive" things in South Africa's way of life. But he dare not go to fast to break down a system that his own party has carefully built up year after year for the more than 30 years it has been in power.

About these ads

National Party leaders are trying to prepare their followers for change by emphasizing that the old policies must be "renewed" and implemented more "positively." They also call for a "normalization" of race relations and racial "reconciliation."

While right-wing whites remain stubbornly suspicious of all this, blacks are becoming more and more impatient about talk of ending discrimination without the government doing very much about this in practice.

Dr. Slabbert is expected to warn the government about increasing black impatience and anger and to challenge it to actually introduce changes, instead of just talking about them.

The National Party is apprehensive about this, and the Afrikaans newspapers that slupport the party have been warning in chorus of the "dangers" of making changes at "an unrealistic speed."

So there seems little likelihood in this session of Parliament that the government will amend fundamental apartheid laws, such as the Race Classification Act, the Mixed Marriages Act (which forbids whites and blacks to marry one another), or the Group Areas Act, which separates black and white living areas.

However, the government is likely to increase its present practice of trying to ease the hurt of rigid apartheid by granting all sorts of "exemptions" to the various laws, provided its own followers do not notice, or make too much fuss.

And it is likely to use some of the windfall from its vastly increased revenue from gold sales to improve black living conditions in the urban areas and in the rural black "homelands."


Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.