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S. African council bars blacks; turns to other nonwhites

After a quarter-century of trying to bring about strict separation of the races, the South African government is turning to Coloreds, Indians, and Chinese , but not the majority Africans to help shape a new constitution for this country.

By doing so, the white government is excluding 80 percent of the population from the constitutional process.

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For that reason, some political analysts have serious doubts whether the new President's Council -- established during a special session of Parliament on Oct. 6 -- will bring about any fundamental changes in South Africa's system of racial separation, known as apartheid.

The 59-member panel, consisting of 43 white, 10 Colored (mixed race), 5 Indian, and 1 Chinese South Africans, is charged with advising the government on a new constitution for this white-ruled republic. Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha hails the body as "the first of its kind in that it transcends political and racial barriers in order to deliberate on constitutional matters."

For the ruling National Party, the move does mark a change of course in a 25 -year effort to bring about rigid racial separation in the political field. Establishment of the President's Council can be seen as a tacit admission that the policy of exclusive white hegemony in South Africa is moribund.

However, the latest government move falls far short of the minimum demands for political power-sharing of even the most moderate black leaders here. And Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, leader of the white parliamentary opposition, which is refusing to join the council, says there is no evidence that the council is a step in the right direction.

Some political experts see creation of the President's Council as an attempt to circumvent right-wingers in the National Party. In the party caucus, hard-line conservatives have opposed even modest changes in racial policies advocated by Prime Minister Botha.

According to some scenarios, Mr. Botha now can use the President's Council to back up his calls for whites to "adapt or die."

Some expect the council, under Mr. Botha's behind-the- scenes guidance, to recommend that Colored and Indian South Africans be given limited representation in Parliament, probably electing a small number of representatives on a separate voters' roll.

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(Colored voters were disenfranchised in 1955, when they were removed from the common voting roll; Indians have never had direct voting rights for Parliament.)

But there are a number of problems with such projections. Because the council is an appointive body, rather than an elective one, there is no guarantee that its recommendations will find wide support among nonwhites here. Indeed, several appointees have already been criticized as unrepresentative. And since the council is purely advisory in nature, it is an open question whether any of its recommendations will be approved by the National Party caucus or be enacted into law by Parliament.

But the most stinging criticism of the council has been over the exclusion of blacks. Earlier, officials suggested that urban blacks could be seated on a separate advisory group to the President's Council, but that proposal was subsequently withdrawn. Instead, the government retreated to its familiar stance that blacks are destined to be made citizens of tribal reserves, called homelands, and will continue to be denied political rights in "white" South Africa.

Zulu chieftain Gatsha Buthelezi, head of one of the homelands, says the government's rigid adherence to this view is only pushing black people closer to violent racial confrontation.

"Who can deny," Chief Buthelezi asks, "that the President's Council, which will sit without blacks, brings us closer to violence than peaceful change?"

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