JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — President Pieter W. Botha, in a sharp rebuff to a mixed-race minister in his Cabinet, declared Saturday that his government would never allow the racial integration of South Africa's residential neighborhoods.
Botha, who last week had pledged to step up the pace of reform here, also reaffirmed his insistence that any new political system be based on "group rights," protecting the country's white and other racial minorities, rather than on the principle of one man, one vote.
Botha said in addition that his government would retain the country's system of racial classification, a foundation stone of apartheid, despite mounting calls for its abolition as a major step toward ending this nation's system of racial separation and minority rule by whites.
The president's comments, setting the government's limits on promised reforms, appeared intended to reassure whites, in advance of elections expected in April, that envisioned changes will not endanger their privileges.
Any new political system, Botha told state-run Radio South Africa, will have to be "built on group identity," which gives a political dimension to the country's racial and ethnic diversity. "No system that deviated from it was acceptable to him," the broadcast said, summing up Botha's position.
Continued segregation of residential areas is one of the most sensitive issues in South Africa, and in the firmness of his remarks, Botha seemed determined to try to halt growing calls for repeal of laws enforcing segregation or, at least, for a system that allows local communities to integrate if they wish.
Botha's comments illustrated the government's acute dilemma--maintaining its support among increasingly apprehensive whites by reassuring them that their interests will not be hurt by promised changes and, at the same time, trying to bring suspicious and skeptical blacks into negotiations with promises of power-sharing. The president's statement Saturday was prompted by demands for immediate and fundamental reforms from the Rev. Allan Hendrickse, chairman of the ministers' council of the Colored (mixed-race) House of Representatives in the country's tricameral Parliament.
Hendrickse told a weekend conference of his Labor Party that unless major changes, such as an end to racial classification and the integration of residential areas, were enacted by Parliament this year, his party would probably withdraw from that body. Such a move would greatly deepen South Africa's political problems, precipitating a constitutional crisis, and it would probably kill the government's hopes of negotiating a new political system to share power with South Africa's black majority.
Hendrickse's continued membership in the Cabinet appeared already in jeopardy Saturday as he and Botha clashed angrily over his participation in government decisions last month to impose stricter controls on opposition groups and the press.
An assertion by Botha that Hendrickse had endorsed the moves, not protesting in the least, was "absolutely false," Hendrickse said, adding that he had not been at a Cabinet meeting that discussed them.
In a further challenge to the government of which he is member, Hendrickse declared his intention to lead a group of Colored bathers to swim this morning at a whites-only beach in Port Elizabeth, where 18 blacks were arrested Friday under segregation laws.
"We will swim wherever we want to swim," Hendrickse told cheering supporters at the Labor Party conference.
But members of the ultra-right Herstigte Nasionale Party plan to patrol Port Elizabeth's whites-only beaches today and to demand that police enforce racial segregation there.
In Johannesburg, meanwhile, a bomb exploded Saturday outside a downtown office building, injuring three black women, one seriously.