Cape Town — Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha has given his clearest signal yet that he intends to introduce constitutional reforms that would give races other than the whites some sort of say in running South Africa.
Right-wing whites, including a forceful group in his own ruling National Party, oppose this. They believe it would lead inevitably to black domination.
But Mr. Botha has declared, at an enthusiastic party meeting in Natal Province, that he is not prepared to be "kicked around by any Tom, Dick, or Harry." He said he will appeal, if necessary over the heads of National Party right-wingers, for support for major constitutional changes to the electorate at large, through a referendum.
However, Mr. Botha is on strong ground. Apart from overwhelming grass-roots support in the National Party itself, he also is remarkably popular personally with whites who support the main opposition parties.
Moreover, opinion polls have shown repeatedly that whites in general are far more in favor of enlightened political reform than the right-wingers inside the National Party government.
Then, too, Mr. Botha and his lieutenants -- and also the Afrikaans-language Nationalist newspapers -- have been preparing the ground carefully. For a long time, they have been talking frequently about "political change" without doing much that is practical about it.
Clearly, Mr. Botha believes now that he can challenge his right wing successfully without causing any significant number to split away.
The sort of changes Mr. Botha has in mind first of all are likely to involve the country's nearly 3 million Coloreds (people of mixed race) and the fewer than 1 million Asians much more closely in the government.
Government-supporting newspapers have hinted that this will be done by giving them the right to elect their own representatives directly to the Parliament, which at present is all-white, probably on election rolls separate from the whites.
This is a reversal of traditional Nationalist policy, which deliberately contrived to eliminate what limited Colored representation there was in Parliament and on provincial and town councils.
But the Colored people are closest of all the races to the whites culturally, socially, and economically and frequently are almost indistiguishable from them. So there is every argument to support political integration.
However, it is a bit late in the day for the National Party to begin to woo the Colored people. Smarting under what they regard bitterly as rejection by the whites, many important Colored leaders say they do not want any special favors for their group that are not extended to others as well, particularly the millions of black Africans who live in the cities.