The first session of South Africa's all-white Parliament since the recent general election opens under several clouds and without any fanfare at the end of this week.
And there seems little prospect that the government will be able to tackle directly the major problems confronting the country.
Mostly this is because of important ideological differences inside the ruling National Party that appear to be hobbling the reformist ideas of Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha. Every time her or one of his small circle of more liberal Cabinet associates makes a move, there is a furor from the party's right wing.
This at a time when there are signs that time is running out politically for the whites.
Especially disquieting have been the sophisticated bomb attacks on power stations recently, followed just this weekend by two more bomb attacks on commercial showrooms in the center of the east coast city of Durban. These last bombings appear to be linked with industrial unrest affecting two large motor manufacturers.
Cabinet ministers have warned that more sabotage and violence are probable.
Also, general discontent and impatience are steadily becoming more evident among people of mixed blood, the Asians, and the Africans (blacks) -- the overwhelming majority of the South African population -- with their lack of effective political rights. Their dissatisfaction with social conditions, a second-rate education system, and other limitations is also becoming evident.
Another reason for gloom among the whites is the success of demonstrations in New Zealand that seem bound to curtail seriously, if not stop, the present tour there of a South African rugby union football team. South Africans have long been top dogs in this sport, and many people here are deeply hurt that so many teams decline to play with them because of their government's racial policies.
Prime Minister Botha, having weathered his first general election as leader of the National Party -- he succeeded John Vorster about two years ago -- returns to Parliament with a huge but deceptive majority. In an assembly of 177 (of whom 165 are directly elected) the National Party will hold 142 seats against the 35 seats of the combined opposition.
Indeed, the main opposition party in Parliament, the Progressive Federal Party, will have only 27 seats.
But whereas the Progressives are a vigorous and coherent and united group, the ruling National Party is so divided over fundamentals that many observers belive Mr. Botha will split the party if he introduces some of the basic reforms he seems to feel are urgent.
These include providing an effective political say for the presently disenfranchised maority, for a start. But National Party right- wingers still stick fast agaisnt sharing political power with other races, though the more liberal members of the party say this is inevitable.
A key figure in the forthcoming parliamentary session will be the leader of the official opposition Progressive Federal Party, a young Afrikaner and former academic, Dr. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert.
he provides quite a contrast to the prime minister. Unpretentious -- he drives the smallest car of anybody in Parliament -- he has a steely intellect and a talent for crisp cross-examination that has sometimes exasperated the prime minister.
he also won an additional 10 seats in the past election, while Prime Minister Botha lost eight.
and he has a singularly talented parliamentary team to back him up.
Few will be surprised if he gets M r. Botha on the run.