S. Africa scraps councils as blacks, Coloreds reject plan

The South African government is a little like the frustrated youngster who cannot persuade any of the other children in the neighborhood to play with him. In the past few months, the white government here has offered its black and brown citizens various tidbits of constitutional reform designed to improve their lot -- but they all have been rejected.

First there was the Colored Persons' Representative Council. This was supposed to provide for the political aspirations of the approximately 3 million Coloreds (people of mixed race).

But elected Colored leaders said the council was just a futile talking shop and that the government did not respond to its demands. So they shut it down by refusing to debate its budget and by voting to go into indefinite recess.

The government responded indignantly to this "defiance" by saying that if the elected Colored leaders would not "cooperate," then it would set up a new council consisting of leading Colored citizens who would simply be appointed by the government, without any elections. They would handle such affairs as the education of Colored children, pensions, and other minor administrative matters affecting Colored people.

But although Minister of Colored Relations Marais Steyn boasted that "hundreds" of top-class people had rushed to serve on the council, in fact the Colored community's real leaders would not touch the proposed council at all.

So the government has been obliged to shelve it altogether, and the Colored people -- who once had a vote in the central Parliament -- now have simply no political rights of any sort at all.

Next, the government came up with legislation providing for a President's Council. This is due, among other things, to advise the government on constitutional changes. Once again, it is supposed to be a prestigious body consisting of leaders of the white, Colored, Asian, and even the small South African Chinese population, and, once again, these "leaders" are due to be nominated by the government.

But there has been an outcry because the council will not include representatives of the overwhelming majority of the South African population, the blacks.

So representative Colored and Asian leaders have all announced they will not have anything to do with this council either, and so has the official white opposition party, the Progressive Federal Party.

Hastily trying to retrieve the situation, the government announced that the blacks would have their own separate Black Council, which would be able to liaise with the President's Council.

This did not satisfy anybody either, least of all the millions of urban blacks. However, the government pinned its hopes on persuading the leaders of the remote black "homeland" areas to make the Black Council work.

Finally, at the end of last week, after a heated day-long meeting in Pretoria , the country's administrative capital, during which black leaders complained that Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha "kept on interrupting," the government announced in a huff that the Black Council plan had been abandoned.

Hurriedly, Minister of Cooperation and Development Piet Koornhof -- known as "Piet Promises" because his frequent liberal interpretations of government policy are so seldom followed by any effective practical reforms -- announced over the weekend that he would hold meetings with the black leaders to try to find an "alternative solution."

But even the moderate "homeland" black leaders -- who are often dismissed as government stooges by the younger radicals -- seem to be hardening in their attitude toward further "useless" consultation.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.