The South African government's plan to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with moderate blacks is at a critical stage. Shrugging off new pressure from the extreme right, President Pieter Botha has begun a high-profile push to convince black leaders to join him in negotiations ``for peaceful answers'' to South Africa's political conflict. The President's new offer came in a recent full-page advertisement in local newspapers.
But Mr. Botha's drive to give blacks a say in national government - a major break from the present system in which blacks have no national voice - has so far been rejected as insufficient by various black leaders. These include the foremost voice for black moderation, Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Black leaders to Chief Buthelezi's political left, who favor black-majority rule, are planning a five-day series of protest work stayaways for next month. The campaign is expected to begin June 12, the first anniversary of Botha's state-of-emergency clampdown, and culminate June 16, the anniversary of a widespread 1976 uprising by black youths.
There have also been new signs that black labor unions, less constrained under the state of emergency than other groups, are moving to take a leading opposition role.
The newly formed National Union of Metalworkers followed the recent lead of other black unions in endorsing the Freedom Charter. This 1955 platform of the outlawed African National Congress calls for the wholesale dismantling of apartheid, a fully nonracial electoral system, and government takeover of some key economic concerns. The union chose as its leader a black activist who faces charges of treason.
The government's drive to activate its power-sharing plan, first offered early last year, is the most important test yet of Botha's overall strategy for race-policy reform. His approach, during the past 18 months, has involved the use of police and judicial muscle against black ``radicals,'' and a variety of incentives for more politically moderate blacks.
The incentives include greatly increased investment in black education and housing, the creation of jobs, and the prospect of black participation in a national government that has long excluded them. The key proviso is that there be no black ``domination'' of whites.
Government sources say that persuading black leaders to join talks on this arrangement, via a proposed National Statutory Council, could prove difficult. But they feel that Botha's triumph in the May 6 white-national election, the setback for white liberals in that vote, and the state-of-emergency quelling of black radical ``intimidation'' of moderates offer hope of success.
Early efforts to activate the Statutory Council seem likely to focus on blacks who have already shown willingness to cooperate with the government: muncipal or tribal ``homeland'' leaders. But most political commentators here agree that a minimum condition for success would be to include Buthelezi, who so far has steered away from participation in the power-sharing offer.
In a series of statements in recent days, Buthelezi has posed a variety of conditions for participation, including the release of jailed black leaders. Generally, Buthelezi wants a visible sign that the proposed negotiations hold out the eventual prospect of a nonracial political system.
In remarks after the appearance of the newspaper ad, Buthelezi advised the President to ``tell us what we are going to negotiate about ... and persuade me that I can sell that which we negotiate to black South Africa.'' He said any formula retaining white political domination was doomed to failure.
Journalists in South Africa operate under official press restrictions.