Botha charts path for South Africa election

It is a textbook study in a highly specialized kind of politics -- namely, shepherding a frightened white minority in a black-majority African nation. The steps involved? Warn the whites of a growing communist-inspired "onslaught" against the country, even produce a Russian spy arrested within its borders. Silence the more vociferous dissenting black voices to demonstrate strength. Claim that recalcitrant right-wingers are holding up a master plan that will ensure white security and satisfy black aspirations.

And then go to the electorate for a mandate for power.

Such is the script followed by South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha, who has called for new elections in this white-ruled republic in late April. The South African Parliament will be dissolved in late February, and two months of intensive campaigning across the country will follow.

That will set the stage for a long-predicted face-off between Mr. Botha and hard-line whites, both inside and outside his ruling National Party. His hope is to gain a convincing majority in Parliament to push through his limited reforms of apartheid, this country's system of racial discrimination.

The pity, according to his critics, is that the election will mean little, if anything, in determining the long-term future of South Africa. For one thing, some 80 percent of the population -- the black majority -- is forbidden by law from voting. For another, Mr. Botha still has not spelled out any major new direction for the country once he has a mandate for the voters.

Nevertheless, most analysts are predicting a major victory for Mr. Botha's forces. Indeed, his announcement of elections in Parliament was staged for maximum dramatic effect on the electorate. Coupled with it was a revelation that one Alexei Michailovitch Kozlov -- said to be a major in the Soviet secret police, the KGB -- was arrested in South Africa last year. The prime minister declined to give many details to the arrest other than claiming Major Kozlov's mission underscored "Moscow's designs on southern Africa."

It is likely that an appeal to whites to unify in resisting a "total Marxist onslaught" will be Mr. Botha's campaign theme. But critics in the opposition Progressive Federal Party (PFP) fear the means growing authorizationism, justified as "preserving internal security."

Indeed, on the very morning Mr. Botha made the announcement of elections, the government "banned" two more black journalists, here. Both of the men -- Phil Mtimkulu and Joe Tholoo -- were formely jounalists on the Post newspaper, which itself was shut down by the government recently. Under the terms of the banning orders, the two are effectively prevented from speaking out or writing against the govrnment.

Mr. Botha's formula for meeting black aspirations, however, is no departure from the dogma of the National Party. Mr. Botha would still declare black people citizens of scattered tribal reserves, and then join these reserves into a loose confederation in which whites would still maintain effective political and economic control.

Nevertheless, even that is too much for some hard-line whites, who argue that Mr. Botha's "liberalism" will lead to the erosion of white supremacy in South Africa.

Some analysts here predict that Mr. Botha's toughest opposition in the election will therefore come from the far right. Indeed, ultra-conservatives seem to be jubilant about their prospects on election day. A few even predict that a right-wing alliance could become the official parliamentary opposition, after the votes are totaled.

That may be overly optimistic, yet few analysts expect the liberal opposition to gain much in the election.

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