The white South African government's plan for limited political ''power sharing'' is beginning to spark active opposition, not just criticism, from the country's nonwhite majority.
At the center of the budding resistance is an unlikely candidate at first glance: Dr. Allan Boesak, a bespectacled, soft-spoken, Colored (mixed-race descent) theologian.
From his modest office here at the University of the Western Cape, where he acts as student chaplain, Dr. Boesak has begun to try to build the kind of multiracial political resistance movement South Africa has not seen since the late 1950s. Its aim: to encourage popular resistance to the government's plan for bringing Coloreds and Indians into the central government, while still excluding blacks.
Dr. Boesak joined with black and Indian leaders recently in launching an organization called the United Democratic Front. The organization is in its infancy and its success in mounting broad opposition to the government's proposals is by no means certain.
But political analysts regard the group's formation in itself as a significant development, signaling a renewed boldness in black (nonwhite) politics and a higher level of concern by blacks about the government's proposals than it had evidenced before.
''There is a growing realization of the seriousness of this issue,'' Boesak explains. In his view the government's power-sharing plan is not a small progressive step, as its supporters argue. Rather he sees it as a step that ''leaves the basic tenets of apartheid absolutely untouched'' and one that will only ''heighten frustrations and anger in the black community'' by excluding blacks from any role in the central government.
Oddly enough, it appears it was the acceptance of the plan by the Labor Party - the main political body of the Colored population - that galvanized activists.
''We felt it was time that community organizations, trade unions, church groups, and students opposed to this plan pooled their resources,'' says Boesak. ''We know the government will push ahead regardless, but it was necessary for us to have at least an organization to register protest.''
Indeed, the effort comes at the 11th hour. The South African Parliament will be gaveled open today for a session expected to lay the legislative groundwork for the envisaged new three-chamber parliament for whites, Coloreds, and Indians. This session is being called the last all-white parliament for South Africa.
Once the country's constitution has been changed, there would be elections for Indian and Colored members of parliament. Boesak's efforts through the United Democratic Front will be to see to it that the turnout at the polls will be so low that the power-sharing plan ''will be seen by the world to be a fraud with no real popular support.''
Dr. Boesak says the Labor Party is opportunistic, and unrepresentative in its willingness to go along with the government.
For its part, the Labor Party justifies its decision to enter into the government's power-sharing arrangement as a Trojan horse option. The party says it can fight on behalf of blacks more effectively from within the government than from without. Labor Party leader Rev. Allan Hendrickse said in accepting the government plan that ''the time for protest politics has passed.''
Boesak disagrees. ''The politics of refusal (to cooperate with the government) can achieve quite a lot.''
What the United Democratic Front hopes the proposed three-chamber parliament will eventually be forced to dissolve.
''It will not happen in a year. But in a few years' time, this government will be forced to come back and say this plan has not worked,'' Boesak says.
''We will continue our pressure until the government is forced to convene a national convention'' involving all racial groups, he vows.
The formation of the United Democratic Front is not the only development in black politics since the Labor Party decision. Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi openly opposes the plan and his alliance with the Labor Party may now collapse. Meanwhile, Chief Buthelezi has met with Transkei President Kaiser Matanzima after years of cool relations. Some analysts see a bid by Buthelezi to seek new allies in place of his ruptured ties with the Labor Party.
Also, at the same time as the United Democratic Front was launched, Indians in the Transvaal revived an old organization, the Transvaal Indian Congress, to oppose the government initiative.
But Boesak's efforts are seen as particularly significant. The United Democratic Front follows in the tradition of the Congress Alliance of the mid- 1950s, which saw Indians, Coloreds, and even some whites join forces with the African National Congress (ANC) in resistance campaigns against the government.
After the banning of the ANC in 1960 such open multiracial political campaigns have been rare. ''Most people here look on overt political organizations as a rather foolish venture'' leading to state repression, Boesak says.
''But maybe the time has come for us to get people to openly identify with the traditions (espoused in the 1950s) of an open nonracial democratic society.''
Boesak's emerging political involvement is a departure from his traditional role as a black leader in religious circles. Last year he was elected president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and led a successful campaign to have South Africa's white Dutch Reformed Church suspended from that group for its support of apartheid.
Boesak is assessor of the Colored sister to the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, and a leader in its efforts to force the mother church to abandon its backing of apartheid.