Botha's 'dangerous gamble': risking right-wing ire to promote council
The South African government is blaming "wreckers" and "boycotters" for the difficulty it is having in its attempts to recruit Coloreds (people of mixed race) and Asians to its new President's Council.
The council is to help the government find a new constitutional system in South Africa acceptable to all races.
Some commentators say that making a success of the council is the biggest challenge facing Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha, and also his "most dangerous gamble."
For the ruling National Party, it represents an almost breathtaking move toward multiracial politics in a country that at present is ruled solely by the white minority, without effective reference to anyone else.
Indeed, some government right-wingers are appalled that this new multiracial body should be established at all. Extremist white opponents of the government are crowing that Mr. Botha is "selling out the whites" and that this will lose him seats in the next election.
But critics on the left of the ruling National Party say that the new council , although it might be a step in the right direction, simply does not go far enough.
Mainly this is because, althouhg it will- have representatives of the important Colored and Asian racial groups, as well as the small South African Chinese community, no blacks will be appointed as members.
And blacks form the overwhelming majority of the South African population. Even in the areas that the government formally categorizes as "white," there are twice as many black Africans as the 4.5 million whites. This is apart from the millions more blacks who live in the so-called black "homelands.
So the official white opposition party in Parliament, the Progressive Federal Party, has declined to serve on the President's Council, and so have the most important Colored and Asian leaders, and the government has been obliged so far to call on lesser known people -- which in turn reflects on the standing of the council itself.
However, Mr. Botha -- a determined man -- is not giving up easily, and is doing everything he can to make the council work.
For a start, the chairman of the 61-seat body is to be one of his closest and most trusted colleagues, Alwyn L. Schlebusch, who is at present minister of interior and justice.
Apart from being the chairman of the council, Mr. Schlebusch will also have the title of vice-state president, a new post with high rank and generous rewards.
Mr. Schlebusch, a somewhat dour but most conscientious and dedicated man who is highly regarded even by his opponents and who is considered a possibility to follow Mr. Botha as prime minister, is most unlikely to have taken on his new job if he did not have assurances that it could lead to better things.
Apart from Mr. Schlebusch, Mr. Botha has appointed three other less important Cabinet ministers to less important posts in the council. But to emphasize the standing of the council, they will retain the privileges and pay of full Cabinet ministers.
Ordinary members of the council will earn at least as muchas ordinary members of Parliament -- and they are likely to have far less work to do. So it was a singnificant test of principle for those community leaders who turned down seats on the council, many of whom are not at all wealthy.
Those so far relatively few Asian and Colored people who have agreed to joint the council are the target of considerable pressure, espeically from young radicals. Some of them have gone out of their way to make it clear that they have only joined in a last-ditch attempt to try to bring about fundamental change in the country, and avert violence.
As prominent Asian lawyer Pat Poovalingam said: "It is clear that the prime minister, by boldly and courageously giving a strong lead for a better South Africa, is annoying a substantial number of his own people, and this requires a corresponding response from us. . . . If the prime minister and his colleagues risk offending their right wing, we must be hold enough to annoy some of our radicals."
Many think that Prime Minister Botha himself would gladly open the council to blacks, and so make it representative of all the racial groups in the country, and that his closest associates in the Cabinet support him. But it is believed that government right- wingers refused to accept this, and that it might have caused a dangerous split in the party if Mr. Botha had gone ahead.