Political obstacles to racial reform in South Africa are mounting.
Probably no one knows this better than Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha, who gets credit from almost all quarters here for being an astute politician. But even Mr. Botha must be slightly awed by the prospects now before him.
In the near future he will receive recommendations from the advisory President's Council on a new constitutional setup for South Africa that would grant some political rights to Coloreds (persons of mixed race) and Indians. The prime minister has already drawn what may be the most visible opposition to these proposals by signaling he would accept some form of ''power sharing'' with ''nonwhites.''
But any hope that the fireworks would be over by the time the proposals landed on his desk has evaporated.
Power-sharing is anathema to many of South Africa's whites, particularly the Afrikaners who control the government. It has led 16 members of Parliament to form their own Conservative Party under the leadership of Andries Treurnicht.
The suggestion of power-sharing has come close to setting off a brush fire of opposition within the white Afrikaner community. Monitor interviews with leading Afrikaners suggest this opposition is strong and growing. It has the potential to ignite, given the right spark.
If the President's Council proposes power-sharing or joint government over certain affairs with the small Colored segment of South Africa's majority nonwhite population, Mr. Botha's acceptance of such proposals could provide just that spark.
Mr. Botha hinted he would accept the proposals when he told Parliament April 15 that whites and Coloreds shared ''joint responsibility'' over certain affairs , and that ''joint responsibility means also that joint decisionmaking must be able to take place.''
Another factor that could further provoke dissatisfaction among whites with Mr. Botha is the Conservative Party's newly articulated alternative to power-sharing.
Many Afrikaners, uneasy about the unknown consequences of accepting a doctrine of power-sharing, yearn for a reasonable-sounding plan for returning to traditional apartheid (strict segregation), say knowledgeable analysts here.
Dr. Treurnicht's young political movement represents the rejection of Mr. Botha's deviation from traditional apartheid. The Conservatives have gained some membership on this basis alone.
But a far larger group of Afrikaners are receptive but not yet committed to the Conservative Party. They appear to be waiting for a clear, understandable policy from Dr. Treurnicht that would not require the adaptations suggested by the prime minister's policy.
Prof. Carel Boshoff, one of South Africa's most influential Afrikaners as chairman of the secret cultural-political organization, the Broederbond, told the Monitor that he was surprised at the deep divisions brought on by the power-sharing issue. He said earlier rumblings had seemed to him signs of ''insecurity'' among Afrikaners, but they had erupted in unmistakable ''disunity.''
Professor Boshoff has been careful not to take sides in the dispute between the prime minister and Dr. Treurnicht.
Still, he maintained that the leadership of Mr. Botha was at a critical juncture. ''It will be the real test of Mr. Botha's power, whether he will maintain power after the President's Council's recommendations,'' he said.
Professor Boshoff warned that if Coloreds and Indians were allowed to sit in a common parliament with whites, or if they were granted seats on city councils, ''There will be trouble'' from the Afrikaner electorate.
Dr. Treurnicht's political philosophy has shown dynamic appeal among the platteland (rural) and urban working class. Several times each week he leaves Cape Town for evening political rallies in the farming and working-class communities of the conservative Transvaal Province. He is slowly extending his agenda to other regions of South Africa.
Dr. Treurnicht is regarded as having strong, although not explicit, support within the membership and hierarchy of the Dutch Reformed Church. Dr. Frans O'Brien Geldenhuys, former chief executive of the Dutch Reformed Church, said Dr. Treurnicht's views come ''as near as possible'' to the church's view that racial separation should be total but equal, in terms of allocation of government resources.
Dr. Geldenhuys, who is considered too ''liberal'' for much of the church's leadership, said the church was basically dissatisfied that the government had not executed the policy of separate development as thoroughly as possible.
The political situation in South Africa is fluid, and analysts have difficulty sizing up what view predominates in the white electorate. Although Dr. Treurnicht has fast-growing support in rural and blue-collar communities, the prime minister is seen as having firm and so far unwavering backing from Afrikaner intellectuals and the business community.
The present fuzziness of political views stems from lack of clarity about just what Mr. Botha means by power-sharing and just what Dr. Treurnicht offers as an alternative.
Professor Boshoff says white Afrikaner political views can be divided into four camps. One extreme minority camp favors complete basskap or total white domination; the other favors a political redistribution of power, to be decided at an all-race conference.
Between those extremes, according to Professor Boshoff, are two larger groups. One is a ''substantial group'' of white Afrikaners who support Mr. Botha's view that white survival and ''self-determination'' are best achieved by political accommodation with certain nonwhite groups.
The other, coalescing around Dr. Treurnicht and his Conservative Party, favors strict segregation of all race groups. The number of people in this category is unclear, Professor Boshoff says. But it has a comfortable appeal since its ideology reflects ''the way Afrikaners have been brought up.''