The South African government seems to be going out of its way to build up expectations of political reform. Right on the heels of the recent general election, the ruling National Party (NP) has distributed nationwide a special eight-page tabloid manifesto in which it commits itself to going "full steam ahead" to introduce" an era of deeds -- not just words."
A banner headline on the front page proclaims that "great action is at hand to carry out NP plans".
Exactly what these plans are, and how fundamental the changes it propose will be, will become evident only when the all-white parliament meets again from the end of July. This will be its first session since the general election, which the NP won with an overwhelming majority.
However, it did lose votes very heavily to racist parties on its right wing, although these parties still failed to gain any seats in parliament. It also lost votes on its left to the official opposition party in parliament, the Progressive Federal Party, which gained 10 seats, a gain the Progressives regard as a triumph.
Some opponents of Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha predicted that he would be hamstrung by the result and too fearful of losing more votes to the left and right to act effectively.
But Mr. Botha -- an impatient and autocratic man who has sometimes been likened to General Charles de Gaulle -- seems intent now on wasting no time in imposing certain constitutional changes and other reforms on the country.
Two political catch phrases are cropping up more and more frequently to describe Mr. Botha's intentions: The new constitutional system he proposes is being described as a "participatory democracy," involving also a "constellation of states."
The idea of a "participatory democracy" seems odd, of course, to people to whom democracy by definition includes popular participation.
But the implication for South Africa is that Mr. Botha intends to extend the present South African form of "democracy," (white minority rule) to include at least people of mixed race, Asians, and the small South African Chinese population. These people have no say in the government of the country at present.
Relations between the whites and these groups and the overwhelming African population would be organized through some form of federation or confederation forming Mister Botha's "constellation."
Mr. Botha is presenting his "policy initiatives" in glowing terms. He says, for example: "I visualize a South Africa that will become a symbol of the freedom of minorities . . . a stable sanctuary where desperation will be replaced by hope . . . a just society."
And he claims: "I have endeavoured to create a new climate for evolutionary development. My aim is peaceful coexistence with South Africa's neighboring states, reconciliation between race groups, the removal of tension and mistrust among opposing political groups, and the establishment of new visions of hope, peace, and justice."
Although there is widespread sympathy for such sentiments, what counts is how radically Mr. Botha is prepared to act to reform the present system to allow races other than the whites an effective say in government.
If he goes too far for his own right wing, he could split the ruling NP.
On the other hand, having aroused considerable expectations of change, his credibility on all sides would be damaged immeasurably if he fails to deliver the goods.
The next session of parliament, consequently, could be of considerable significance for South Africa.