Botha tries to polish reform image

South African Prime Minister Pieter Botha seems intent on improving his rather dented reformist image. He has been under attack recently from right and left inside his own ruling National Party, which has an overwhelming majority in the all-white South African Parliament, and from the main opposition, the Progressive Federal Party.

The Progressives have attacked him for going back on his promises to introduce meaningful, far-reaching political reform. Some reformists inside the National Party also gave him the rather disdainful nickname of "Pieter Wait-A-While," because he seemed to be backtracking.

He appeared to being doing this because of a sustained attack on him from right-wing whites who characterized him as "Pieter Breker" (it rhymes) -- meaning Peter the smasher, implying that he was breaking down traditional white protectionist policies.

But in speech to Parliament that some Afrikaans political observers regard as a "turning point," Mr. Botha went out of his way to deny he was turning his back on past promises of change, and indicated that the process would get well under way next year.

One of the most significant aspects of Mr. Botha's statement was about the future of the so-called Colored people, South Africa's nearly 3 million people of racially mixed parentage.

Mr. Botha met extremists head-on in Parliament. He said he did not regard the Colored people as a separate group who could be accommodated in a separate political system.

But he did not go so far as to say that he would, for example, give them the vote, either.

But his statement, making it clear that they "belong" with the whites is likely to cause a storm among right-wingers who believe that equal political rights for the Colored people are inevitable if they are not completely separated from the whites.

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