JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — President Pieter W. Botha, already worried by the major election gains this year by South Africa's far-right Conservative Party, was confronted Tuesday with a threat of new parliamentary elections in the next year and a half unless he agrees to end racial segregation in housing.
The Labor Party, whose members control the Colored (mixed-race) house in the country's three-chamber Parliament, voted Tuesday at its annual convention to block any government moves to postpone general elections unless Botha's ruling National Party first repeals the Group Areas Act, which sets aside separate residential and business areas for different racial and ethnic groups.
Afraid of serious Nationalist losses to the Conservatives, Botha wants to postpone until 1992 the parliamentary elections scheduled for mid-1989 under the present constitution. But the Labor Party is insisting on major concessions, primarily repeal of the Group Areas Act, for its agreement, which is required for any constitutional amendment.
Challenged on Reform
Declaring that "apartheid is alive and well" as long as this law remains in force, the Rev. Allan Hendrickse, the Labor Party leader, challenged the Nationalist government to prove its commitment to reform by repealing the act.
"Unless this legislation is deleted from the statute book, the positive changes that have already taken place will remain empty, hollow and meaningless," Hendrickse told the Labor Party convention in Pretoria.
A legislative commission recommended in September the gradual integration of South Africa's residential areas through amendments liberalizing, but not repealing, the Group Areas Act.
Although this proposal won Botha's reluctant approval, it was denounced by the Conservative Party, which dramatically increased its share of the vote in the white parliamentary elections in May to about half those received by the National Party.
Sensitive to Far Right
While the National Party hailed its May victory as a demonstration of broad white support for its policies of gradual, step-by-step reforms, the government since then has seemed very conscious of the threat posed by the far right, and many of the expected reform initiatives have not materialized.
"The time has come for the state president and his National Party government to explain precisely what the mandate is that he got from the white voters this year," Hendrickse said. "If this is not done, the white voter might have to go to the polls in 1989, not because of the Labor Party but due to the apathy of the National Party in telling us what we want to know."
But the Labor Party also voted to continue its participation in the controversial Parliament, which has separate houses for South Africa's white, Colored and Asian minorities but which excludes the country's black African majority and leaves them voteless in national affairs.
Continued participation would increase the Labor Party's political leverage, which could in turn be used to press for more sweeping reforms, Hendrickse said.
Asserts Role for Party
"Whether the National Party government and all the other political factions in the country in the country want to acknowledge it or not, whatever is decided by the Labor Party (at the convention) will bring about radical change in South Africa," he added.
"The government cannot continue any longer to take far-reaching decisions for the broad South African community while in truth it is the National Party and the whites who are making the decisions."