JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — President Pieter W. Botha's government introduced landmark legislation Friday that would permit blacks to elect representatives to a proposed national council intended to begin negotiations on a new political system for South Africa.
J. Christiaan Heunis, the minister of constitutional development and planning, described to Parliament in Cape Town what would be the government's boldest political reform yet, bringing blacks into national decision-making for the first time in South African history and starting discussions on a new constitution based on the black majority's participation.
Heunis said that the council would include at least 15 blacks, nine of them elected to represent urban blacks, among its 30 or so members and that it would have an open agenda in negotiating "a new constitutional dispensation in which all South Africans will be represented and could participate."
The proposal "serves as confirmation of our commitment to negotiate and of level-headed South Africans' ability to cooperate on steps that affect all of us," Heunis told Parliament.
Botha and Heunis clearly hope that passage of the legislation, which will be a tough fight, will draw blacks into negotiations on a new "power-sharing" political system that will protect the country's white minority while giving the vote to blacks.
Few black leaders have been willing until now to meet with the government to discuss such proposals. Suspicious of Botha's commitment to reform, they have instead insisted on a "transfer of power" to a system based on the principle of one person, one vote. They also set further conditions for negotiations, including an end to the present state of emergency, release of political prisoners and legalization of the African National Congress and other banned political groups.
With "an open agenda," government officials indicated Friday, these could be the first items discussed and agreement could then clear the way for broader negotiations.
A Test of Support
The national black elections, themselves a first, would be a good test of the popular support that rival black groups have for their visions of a post-apartheid society, Heunis said. The government would encourage the broadest participation, he added.
The council would also assume authority on an advisory basis over black affairs, now largely administered by white officials, pending agreement on a new constitution.
Other council members would include Botha as chairman, Heunis, probably other Cabinet ministers, leaders of six of the tribal homelands, the chief ministers of the Indian and mixed-race Colored houses in the three-chamber Parliament and up to 10 people appointed by Botha.
Establishment of the council would depend, Heunis said, on how soon the legislation is passed and when the elections could be held.
But the proposal, which has drawn far more criticism than praise since it was first made nearly two years ago, faces considerable opposition, both within Parliament and outside.
Wants Share in Decisions
"Black people don't need a national council like this one," Mayor Nelson Botile of Soweto, the sprawling black city outside Johannesburg, commented. "What we need is to be in a decision-making body. We don't want to make recommendations on black affairs. We must share decisions."
Nthato Motlana, chairman of the Soweto Civic Assn., was even firmer.
"We reject the idea of a national council out of hand," he said. "The details of who qualifies to vote and who qualifies for election are irrelevant. We are not interested in such councils. What we want is a common voters' roll and joint representation in Parliament."
Further opposition is likely to come from Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, who as the chief minister of the Zulu tribal homeland would also be a council member. He has declared that he would not participate unless Nelson Mandela and other imprisoned leaders of the African National Congress and Pan-Africanist Congress are freed and permitted to take part.
But John Gogotya, chairman of the Federal Independent Democratic Alliance, which claims a membership of 300,000 in politically conservative affiliates, said that the proposed elections are the best way to determine the support that the African National Congress and its rivals have among blacks and that his organization would participate in the poll.
"It's high time such a step was taken," he said.
Silent on Legalizing ANC
Although Heunis promised the government would work for the broadest possible participation, he said nothing about legalizing the ANC and other banned groups or freeing political prisoners such as Mandela so they could take part in the election and join the council.