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Bastions of S. African conservatism urge another look at apartheid

Leaders in two of white South Africa's foremost institutions -- the Afrikaans press and church -- have jolted their conservative supporters by calling for radical new approaches to the race issue.

The greatest political shock comes from a pillar of the largest Afrikaans church, the highly influential Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church).

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Dr. Frans O'Brien Geldenhuys, who resigned as the church's chief executive officer at the end of last year, has now attacked the church for being "internally paralyzed" and simply not able to give guidance to the thousands of Christians who, he said, are "uneasy" about increasing tension between the various races in the country, and about the need for a new social and political dispensation.

Dr. Geldenhuys has served the church for more than 40 years.

But he now complains it has not used the Scriptures to explain to its members why it is essential to make fundamental political changes to the existing order "which we supported and advocated so enthusiastically for so many years."

And he questions why the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk remained silent about gross political injustices in the country while other churches were justifiably critical.

It is becoming almost routine now for more liberal afrikaner intellectuals and religious leaders to come to light with political proposals that would have been regarded as heretical just a few years ago -- if not just downright unthinkable. But it is difficult to gauge just how well their views are going down with the rank and file.

In the past few days, two editors have also delivered shocks to conservative Afrikaners.

First, editor Ton Vosloo of the Beeld newspaper warned his readers that, just as South Africa has finally been forced to negotiate with the insurgent South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) over the future of Namibia, the National Party would one day almost certainly have to negotiate with its own homegrown black nationalist movement, the African Nationalist Congress, over the future of South Africa itself.

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This is an astonishing thing for an Afrikaner Nationalist to feel obliged to concede. For years the National Party has branded the ANC as communist-controlled and has scorned any suggestion that it would ever have any dealings with it. And the government has passed laws that have enabled it to ban the organization and make it a crime for anyone to belong to it or support its ideals.

The ANC has continued to exist underground; however, editor Vosloo has now put the organization in a completely new light for his readers -- many of whom must have found it difficult to believe their eyes.

Instead of dismissing the ANC as a bunch of bloodthirsty terrorists, he suggests that the organization could really be regarded fundamentally as rather like the ruling white National Party itself. Just as the National Party had been the founding father of organized white nationalist politics, he points out, the African National Congress has been the "founding mother" of organized black politics in the country.

Mr. Vosloo's remarkable new realism made headlines in newspapers around the country.

Another Afrikaans editor, Dr. Willem De Klerk, editor of the Transvaler, which is the official organ of the National Party in the Transvaal, has also been busy preaching conciliation.

The whites have to come to terms with the fact that it is useless for them to believe they can maintain their privileged position by force, he said in a political column in the nationally distributed Rapport newspaper.

He said the only way they could survive in South Africa was by finding a political solution that would be acceptable to all the popul ation groups.

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