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S. Africa race policy dealt second blow

By Patrick LaurenceSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 13, 1985



Johannesburg

South Africa's policy of racial segregation has been dealt its second blow in two days. A key government council yesterday recommended that the nation's influx control laws be abolished. These laws regulate where blacks may live, work, and travel and also require that all blacks over age 16 must carry a special passbook.

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Abolition of those laws, and the return of South African citizenship to some blacks that had been deprived of it, a change announced Wednesday, foreshadow the collapse of some key aspects of apartheid, analysts say. But it is not yet clear what will replace it.

President Pieter W. Botha is likely to take the council's recommendation seriously. The 60-member council, which advises the President on matters of general interest, is an integral part of South Africa's political order and an institution with considerable influence.

The proposed changes cannot take effect without approval from Parliament, which probably will not debate the issue until it reconvenes in early 1986, according to council chairman Piet Koornhof.

The actual recommendation for abolition came from the constitututional affairs committee of the council, which concluded that the influx control is inherently ``degrading of human dignity.''

Noting that between 200,000 and 300,000 blacks are arrested each year under the laws, the committee said, ``Influx control measures as applied at present are discriminatory and in conflict with basic human rights.'' The laws, declared ``enemy No. 1'' by black nationalists as far back as 1919, have inspired numerous abolition campaigns.

``It is neither possible nor feasible to retain influx control and remove only its discriminatory elements. . . . in that it applies only to black and not to other population groups,'' the committee said.

This comment demolishes the hope of various government reformers to ``remove the discriminatory or hurtful aspects of discrimination'' while somehow retaining influx control.

Before making its recommendation, the committee considered and rejected two alternatives: extension of influx control to the nonblack minorities and limiting the flow of blacks into the cities to the availability of housing.

The first option was rejected as politically unfeasible. The second was found unacceptable because it did not eliminate the problems associated with influx control, given the shortage of housing in black areas.

The committee, however, warned against too speedy a dismantling of the laws which are enforced by thousands of bureaucrats. ``The abolition should take place in an orderly manner,'' it said.

Influx control should be replaced by a colorblind ``strategy for orderly urbanization,'' in which a specially created urbanization board would play a key role, the committee proposed. It further recommended that all South Africans should carry uniform identity documents.

South Africa's policy of depriving blacks of South African citizenship was aimed at forcing them to exercise political rights in their designated ``homelands.'' The influx laws complemented the citizenship policy by keeping blacks out of territory allocated to whites and restricting them to homelands that make up less than 13 percent of South Africa's territory.

The council also recommends that the abolition apply to the four nominally independent homelands, whose citizens have been subject to the 1937 Aliens Act which required permits for entry into South Africa. The committee further considered the situation of the black town and village councils, whose members have been the target of wrath in the townships.

It proposed that the ``acceptability'' of such councils should be improved by increasing their autonomy and making them more viable financially with money from the public and private sectors. That, again, subverts prevailing policy, which insists that township councils finance themselves from their own resources.