JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — President Pieter W. Botha now has little hope that his latest reform proposals, centered on a potentially far-reaching offer by the white government to share political power with the black majority, can chart a way out of South Africa's deepening crisis.
Botha announced the plan Jan. 31 at the opening of Parliament, but blacks--moderates as well as militants--immediately rejected the package as insufficient, even as a beginning.
Botha's declaration about putting an end to the much-hated "pass laws," which restrict blacks from entering nominally white areas without government permits, was met with demands for repeal of all the laws enforcing apartheid, South Africa's system of racial segregation.
The national council that Botha proposed as a multiracial negotiating forum, which would bring blacks into the top levels of government for the first time, is an all but dead issue. Black leaders refused to take part in it.
"Big deal," Bishop Desmond Tutu commented. "Who wants a statutory council that doesn't rule the country? . . . I am afraid we are left again with hopes that have been dashed. There ought to have been bold steps. . . . There isn't any more time left, and black people need to be given signs of hope."
White liberals have branded the effort another false start. They say that South Africa is now trapped in the "dilemma of diminishing options," that whatever might have worked a year ago and broken the cycle of political violence now has no chance of success.
The big buildup given the reform proposal, said Colin Eglin, new leader of the Progressive Federal Party, a white opposition group, was "a mammoth confidence trick to create a reality that simply was not true." As a result, he said, the government and the country are now "in deep, deep trouble."
The hard-line right, alarmed by the spread of civil unrest, is beginning to form armed commando groups to guard white neighborhoods. Multiplying black attacks on whites and attacks by whites on blacks threaten to bring on the race war that many fear.
Botha's own National Party is openly and bitterly divided over what to do next--whether to pursue step-by-step implementation of the reforms, to enlarge upon them to meet black demands, or to hold fast until its critics see that, as the government believes, there is "no other workable alternative."
Botha's inclination, according to senior National Party members of Parliament, is to stand pat and reunify his divided supporters while waiting for his opponents to accept his reform proposals as the best they are likely to get for some time.
But Botha's Jan. 31 proposals now appear to have little chance of persuading blacks to choose the path of reform rather than revolution.
One disappointed member of Parliament, a National Party liberal, commented, "In political terms, the crisis is deeper simply because we tried to get out and failed, and we are not prepared, at least not yet, to do what seems to be required to get out.
"We have lost even more credibility with blacks, the political moderates who we believe form a black 'silent majority' and whom we must persuade to come with us. At the same time, we have many more whites disillusioned with the reform process and veering to the extreme right or left and opposing us."
What hope remained for the reform package was extinguished earlier this month by Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the Zulu leader and an essential participant in the proposed national council. He said he would not participate in the new forum, despite his earlier praise of Botha's proposals as "a courageous break with the past."
An Unmet Call
Buthelezi said Botha has failed to meet his call to spell out the council's powers, to agree to conduct its deliberations in public and to free unconditionally Nelson Mandela, the jailed African National Congress leader, and other political prisoners so they could also participate.
The Rev. Sam Buti, the mayor of Alexandra, a black township on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg that has been the scene of considerable violence last week, added that any black leader "who served on this body (would) fall into the trap of consciously or unconsciously propagating the policy of apartheid."
The president also undermined the credibility of his reform package by repudiating liberal interpretations of it by members of his own Cabinet and reiterating "group security"--protection of the country's white minority--as the basis of his offer of power sharing.
He publicly scolded Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha for saying that, provided there were constitutional guarantees protecting whites' interests, South Africa might have a black president in the future.
Buthelezi said the president's humiliating and unprecedented attack on Pik Botha--the two Bothas are not related--left blacks "aghast" and called into question the government's sincerity in promoting such reforms as power sharing.
'A Macabre Ballet'