Search for a new identity By Ned Temko, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Monumentkoppie, South Africa
SOME monuments soar; others take your breath away. But Afrikanerdom's national shrine -- this monolith, ringed by stone ox wagons drawn into a defensive laager (camp) -- seems to proclaim with defiance: ``We shall survive!'' This peculiarly Afrikaner mission to survive, inherited by President Pieter W. Botha, has rarely seemed more difficult, or more urgent, than it does today. In a country beset by black rebellion, white confusion, economic recession, and international criticism, he is under great pressure to shape a new identity for himself, his party, and his people. ``We must offer our supporters a clear vision of the future,'' a Botha aide says privately. ``We have not yet done so.''Skip to next paragraph
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In the short term there will be more violence. The 16th of June -- next Monday -- marks the anniversary of the blacks' Soweto uprising of 1976, during which an estimated 575 people, mostly black, were killed. Despite the government's recent ban on any indoor or outdoor commemoration ceremonies, blacks pledge to hold memorial ceremonies, rallies, and work boycotts.
This will provide a focal point for new pressure from South Africa's black majority for the white-ruled government to scuttle apartheid -- forced racial segregation -- not reform it, as the government is attempting to do. But in a proposal of toughened security laws and in President Botha's recent remark that the state still has huge police muscle in reserve, he has signaled it is ready to meet force with force.
For the government, August is the month that really matters. President Botha has called a rare federal congress of his National Party, to be followed by a reconvened session of Parliament. His supporters have hinted at party fund-raisers that there may be a national referendum later in the year seeking a ``constitutional dispensation'' for blacks, similar to the 1983 vote that led to the creation of separate parliamentary houses for mixed-race ``Coloreds'' and for Asians.
According to Mr. Botha's colleague: ``A clear vision of the future -- that is what August is all about.''
It is likely to be an Afrikaner's vision, for Afrikaners alone. Some outsiders posit a new National Party -- enlisting support from reform-minded Afrikaners, English-speakers, and an emerging black middle class for the kind of transition to black majority rule that has occurred in Zimbabwe. But Afrikaner history seems to cry out against the analogy.
The National Party not only represents, but embodies, Afrikanerdom. Many of the 2 million English-speakers, who are part of the country's roughly 5 million whites, openly accept or support the idea of a ``Zimbabwean'' experience for South Africa. And, especially at a time when President Botha appears threatened by opposition from the Afrikaner right, the government figures that most English-speakers will back it -- to avert a right-wing victory.
The government, however, has no intention of presiding over the ``Zimbabweization'' of South Africa.
A senior government minister confides: ``My aim is to share power, without abdicating power.''
Most Afrikaners still seem to cherish that aim -- to somehow share power without losing control.
At Stellenbosch University, some student leaders have made headlines in the past 18 months by proposing political initiatives far more daring than their government's.
Last year, President Botha withdrew the passports of eight students to keep them from traveling to Zambia to meet with exiled leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), the most powerful black nationalist group fighting to overthrow the white-ruled regime.
Last month, several student leaders called on the government to legalize the outlawed ANC and release Nelson Mandela, a founder of its military wing, from jail. Mr. Mandela has been in prison since the early 1960s when he was convicted of plotting a revolution.