Johannesburg — A policy of benevolent leniency toward black ``moderates'' is becoming clear in South Africa's state of emergency. Pretoria has said that the emergency's purpose is not merely to stem the tide of black ``extremism.'' It is also to protect black ``moderates'' serving in government-approved political structures such as township councils and ``homeland'' legislatures and to recruit or co-opt ``responsible'' blacks to serve in a proposed new order.
In declaring the emergency June 12, President Pieter W. Botha said its purpose ``is to create a situation of relative normality so that . . . the reform program to which the government has committed itself can be continued.'' The program, he added, aims at accommodating the aspirations of all South Africans in a ``new constitutional dispensation.''
To this end, he is wooing a range of black leaders, including Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, who seems to be of critical importance to these plans.
The government allowed Chief Buthelezi to address a rally Sunday in the black township of Soweto. Precautions were taken by the government to protect Buthelezi from possible attack by his foes in Soweto. The emergency makes it difficult to be specific. Suffice it to record that Buthelezi's bodyguards were not alone in their determination to protect him.
On the other hand, leaders of the United Democratic Front, the largest nonparliamentary opposition group, and the Azanian People's Organization, a ``black consciousness'' movement, have reportedly been detained since the emergency clampdown. Display of these groups' symbols or slogans is prohibited in large parts of the country.
Buthelezi's speech to a crowd of 15,000 black admirers in Soweto must have been music to the ears of Mr. Botha and his minister of constitutional affairs, Chris Heunis, who has been working assiduously to persuade moderate black leaders to participate in reform plans.
The powerful Zulu leader told cheering supporters that Botha's proposed ``national council'' could mark the start ``of the final victory for the black struggle for liberation.'' Buthelezi carefully but unmistakably raised the possibility of participating in the council, an option that he has until now not aired publicly.
The national council has been proposed by Botha as a means of offering blacks a role in the formation of a new constitution, in which south Africans of all races -- including the black majority -- would have a share in the central government. Without endorsement from Buthelezi and his 1 million-member Inkatha movement, the prospects of the national council's providing even a respite from the current crisis seem slight.
But, while canvassing the option of participating in the national council, Buthelezi stressed that a decision to join was contingent on several conditions, including:
That Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed African National Congress, be released and given the option of joining or spurning the council.
That Buthelezi himself receive a ``massive mandate'' from blacks to participate.
That final plans for the national council -- due to be approved at a special congress of Botha's ruling National Party in August -- make it clear that it is imbued with real power and not ``merely a talking shop.''
The draft bill for the national council provides for the participation of the chief ministers of all six of South Africa's partially self-governed ``homelands'' -- of whom Buthelezi is the most powerful and the best organized. It further provides for the participation of at least 10 urban black leaders. They would be almost certainly drawn from the black township councils, whose members have been the target of physical assault by young radicals eager to bring about the political demise of men they perceive as ``collaborators'' of the Botha government. The councilors are generally either openly supportive of tough measures to contain black radicals or at least discreetly silent.
Much of the government's political courting has been in secret until now because of the danger to the ``moderates'' from the ``radicals.'' The emergency may make it possible to publicly announce a political marriage between Botha and black moderates.
But though the emergency powers offer a shield for black ``moderates,'' it remains to be seen whether the government can build a center strong enough to withstand the storms ahead from the left and the right.