South African Indians, Coloreds shun polls and new Parliament

The bulk of South Africa's Colored and Indian population groups appear to have concluded the white government's new tricameral Parliament is a sham reform.

More specifically, these groups apparently have concluded the new limited-power-sharing arrangement that makes them junior partners to whites in government is most important for what it does not do. It does not make any provision for the country's black majority.

Elections for nonwhite members of the new tricameral Parliament ended Tuesday with a barrage of rubber bullets, tear gas, stone-throwing, and baton charges - and a trickle of voting.

Only about 20 percent of the registered Indian voters went to the polls Aug. 28, signaling an unambiguous rejection of the new Parliament, according to most political analysts here. Last week most Coloreds (persons of mixed race descent) also stayed away from the polls, with only 30 percent of those registered voting.

The poor voter turnouts will not deter the government. Minister of Internal Affairs F. W. de Klerk said after the Indian polling percentages were made public that the government regarded the Indian and Colored results as enough of a mandate to go ahead.

De Klerk blamed the ''disappointing'' voter turnouts in both elections on intimidation by organizations that urged a boycott and on negative coverage by the news media. Other top government officials have said inexperience and ignorance about political participation in the Colored and Indian communities were factors.

However, other analysts say these elections were for the most part shunned because Indians and Coloreds perceive the government to be still pursuing an old strategy. The strategy is one of attempted co-option, whereby the white government is searching for new allies against blacks.

Over the past 20 years the government has established toothless political bodies for Coloreds and Indians that were perceived by their constituents as part of this strategy.

These repeated co-option attempts have allowed the boycott movement to ''crystallize'' into a significant political force, says Ebrahim Patel, an elections analyst at the University of Cape Town. The government's co-option efforts have also made Coloreds and Indians suspicious of anything the government offers. They produce ''large-scale alienation'' among even the moderates in both communities, he argues.

The growing effectiveness of the boycott movement is evident. The government established the Colored Persons Representative Council in 1968 as an advisory body. But in elections in 1969 and 1975, most Coloreds did not vote. The CPRC was eventually disbanded for lack of any meaningful support in the Colored community.

The South African Indian Council, an advisory body set up by the government, also fared poorly at the polls in its first election in 1981. A little more than 10 percent of the registered Indian voters cast ballots. That body also has been disbanded.

The new tricameral legislature being introduced in South Africa offers Coloreds and Indians more power than was the case in either the CPRC or the Indian Council. Under the new system, Coloreds, Indians, and whites will take seats in separate chambers in Parliament. Whites will retain ultimate control. But Indians and Coloreds will have more power to decide on matters strictly related to their own communities.

Critics see the new system primarily as a step toward cooperating with whites in the implementation of apartheid, the central aim being to continue to exclude blacks from any meaningful political rights.

Patel says Coloreds and Indians find this repugnant because they have been victims of apartheid, albeit less so than blacks.

Another factor is the calculation by many Coloreds and Indians that angering blacks is to their long-term detriment, assuming blacks will one day form the government of South Africa. Indians are in a particularly dicey situation, with the bulk of them living in the Natal Province, which also contains some 5 million Zulus.

The Indian election was marred by small-scale riots and clashes between police and Indians opposed to the election. The Solidarity and National People's parties won most of the 40 seats at stake.

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