PRETORIA, South Africa — Most South Africans, whites as well as blacks, want racial reform, says Chris Heunis, South Africa's minister for constitutional development and planning, when asked about the future of his troubled country, "but they could still get revolution."
Jan Christiaan Heunis is an optimist, as befits the minister charged with charting South Africa's way out of its current troubles, but 16 months of sustained civil unrest have left him worried.
"It's difficult, damned difficult, to negotiate with leaders of black, Indian and Colored (mixed-race) communities who are immediately branded as stooges for talking to you," he said in an interview here. "But it's impossible, flatly impossible, to develop new political structures--let alone to write a constitution that will be accepted and will work--except through negotiations."
And that describes the box in which the minority white government of President Pieter W. Botha currently finds itself. It is seeking ways to enlist moderate black leaders in a dialogue that would result in the whites sharing--but not ceding--political power. At the same time, however, the government must satisfy the fast-growing demands of the country's black majority without losing control so abruptly that the already-apprehensive whites rebel.
Protege of President
Heunis, 57, a political protege of Botha and one of his possible successors as president, readily acknowledges that he does not have the answer to what South African political scientist Hermann Giliomee calls "the riddle of our times." But, Heunis says, that is because "we will not be prescriptive any longer, laying down plans and blueprints and models that cannot solve our problems because the people who are most affected did not participate in drafting them."
Heunis has had only limited success, however, in drawing blacks into political negotiations on the country's future, and he and other government ministers now describe this as the biggest barrier to accelerated reform here.
Although some of the leaders of South Africa's rural tribal homelands and of local black governments do participate in discussions with him and other officials, such people are largely rejected by other blacks as collaborators with the minority white regime.
Leaders with broader support, such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi or officials of the United Democratic Front coalition of anti-apartheid groups, say bluntly that they will not talk with the government until certain conditions are met. Among the conditions are release of imprisoned black political leaders, including Nelson Mandela, and a formal government commitment to end apartheid and minority white rule. They dismiss the current discussions as a "talk shop."
A political scientist, who asked not to be quoted by name because of his occasional role as a government adviser, said, "Heunis' problem is that blacks want up-front concessions he is prepared to make only in exchange for concessions from them, such as a commitment to peaceful change, such as a commitment from them to sharing power with whites. He has the further problem that he cannot appear to whites to be giving away the farm without getting anything in return.
"This gives the appearance of stalemate, of deadlock to the reform process. In fact, there is quite a bit of movement. Heunis has moved both the government and National Party and the black community into the pre-negotiation stage by getting them to define their priorities, set conditions, challenge each other, modify their own positions and so forth. Secondly, some reforms are already emerging out of these preliminaries."
Heunis, reviewing the process of political reform, argued that the informal negotiations he has had with blacks--"they are by no means stooges," he said, "and they are very tough"--have led to fundamental changes in government and National Party policy over the past year.
"We have committed ourselves to one country, one citizenship, one constitution," he said. "We have accepted the permanency of the black urban population, property rights for them, the need for political entities for them, their representation at the highest levels of government and for these political structures to be negotiated. I won't say this was unthinkable three years ago, but it certainly was not government policy then."
Botha has also committed the National Party to the principle of "universal franchise"--though not on the basis of one-man, one-vote in a unitary state--and is expected to propose other ideas for negotiation next month when he opens Parliament.