White S. African Students push for interracial contacts

A group of leading white Afrikaans students are attempting the unthinkable in this strictly segregated society: forming a new organization with interracial contacts.

The unprecedented step has presented a young Afrikaans theology student whose last name in translation ironically means "nobody" with an unenviable task. He must try to resolve bitter political conflicts that are threatening to tear apart the country's major Afrikaans student organization.

The organization, called the Afrikaanse Studentebond (Afrikaans Student Union) and known by its initials, ASB, is an important Afrikaans front organization with close ties to the ruling South African National Party.

And it was no novelty that the main invited speakers at the annual ASB congress that has just ended were a string of mostly right-wing government Cabinet ministers, including the hard-line Minister of Police, Louis Le Grange.

Nor were the resolutions passed anything out of the ordinary. They were mainly faint echoes of current government policy.

It was this that provoked a vigorous progressive backlash.

Declaring themselves finally outraged that the ASB was "more right-wing even than the National Party" and that most of the delegates did not realize how little time the whites in South Africa have left to find a peaceful political settlement, a group of leading students announced they were founding a new student organization that would go out of its way to make interracial contacts.

In the light of traditional ASB attitudes, their proposals are not only controversial but also almost revolutionary.

They formally acknowledge:

* The "inalienable right" of all people in South Africa to full citizenship.

* That all groups should have equal rights to political decisionmaking.

* That all people should have the right to associate with whom they wish.

The rebellious students also proposed that there should be no bar on membership on the basis of race, language, or sex. Any Christian who is "loyal to South Africa" should be eligible for membership.

Most of this is completely contracdictory to the traditional attitudes of the ASB, which is not only an exclusively white organization, but also one that believes it should represent the "exclusivity of the Afrikaner."

And although the ASB's new president, Nelus Niemandt, has called for Afrikaans student unity, he still insists that the organization should stand firmly behind the National Party, that the "sovereignty" of South African whites is "unassailable," and that the ASB will never accept political policies leading to one-man, one-vote in South Africa.

One of the proposals at the congress that caused heated debate and provided one of the reasons for the "revolt" of the group of more progressive students was a suggestion that the government should introduce a bill of rights that would apply to all citizens.

It urged that "as young Christian Afrikaners, we acknowledge the human dignity of all peoples," that the independence of the judiciary be entrenched, and that individual rights should be protected from arbitrary state action -- for example, by detention without trial, as happens at present.

The proposals were rejected by an overwhelming majority. Among the "reasons" cited: a bill of rights in the United States of America had ensured so much freedom "that one cannot even cross the street without being in fear of one's life," and a human-rights doctrine in Western European countries had led to "hitherto unknown decandence."

But the revolt by progressive students against traditional ASB attitudes is another important symptom of the ferment among Afrikaners about the need for fundamental political change in the country.

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