Is there a middle way in South Africa?

When South Africans or their discerning friends overseas read about the words of an arch-Afrikaner, Dr. Andries Treurnicht (leader of the far-right Conservative Party), and a black churchman, Bishop Desmond Tutu (general secretary of the South African Council of Churches), then nothing is more certain than that South Africans have to find a middle ground in their thinking in which both black and white will be comfortable.

Primarily conscious of the disadvantages suffered by blacks, Bishop Tutu pleads for the end of apartheid. ''The only way forward to true peace and justice for all is when apartheid will have been dismantled,'' he said to the annual meeting of the South African Council of Churches in June.

Primarily conscious of the danger to Afrikaner identity that lies precisely in the direction in which the bishop points, Dr. Treurnicht wrote in his book ''Credo van 'n Afrikaner'' (''Credo of an Afrikaner''): ''We wish to remain a white people with self-determination in our own territory. That is why we set borders. That is why we try to avoid not only points of friction, but also meeting points in equality and mixing.''

The bishop pleaded in his speech: ''... call a national convention of all the authentic leaders of all sections of our community to map out the kind of South Africa we want - truly democratic, just, and nonracial.'' Has he realized that not only Dr. Treurnicht, but also many other Afrikaners and whites in general, see a nonracial South Africa as essentially undemocratic and unjust because the weight of black numbers will make it a non-Afrikaner, nonwhite South Africa?

But neither has Dr. Treurnicht thought far enough: ''If the liberals think their abstract principles through to our actual situation - that is to say, if they try to visualize how nonwhite and white each can enjoy freedom, justice, and neighborliness - they must plead parallel nationalisms! Under no other system can there be freedom and justice for the Afrikaner or for other smaller groups such as the Coloreds and smaller black peoples.''

What about justice between peoples, particularly where history has hardly given them borders concomitant with their respective numbers and viability in a modern economy?

Only if the Conservative Party should call upon whites to make an appropriate sacrifice of their current disproportionate territorial hegemony is it entitled to expect that Bishop Tutu and his followers should relinquish their dream of a unitary South Africa ruled by the black man.

It's a difficult thing to ask of whites. But Dr. Treurnicht needs only to expand on his own words in ''Credo'': ''South Africa is in a unique position to show the world that it is possible to protect national and cultural communities on their own ground, and that it is at the same time possible for such protected communities (which demand and practice self-determination) to help one another, maintain contact with one another and fulfill a mission toward one another, without the right to self-determination and the territory in which to practice it being prejudiced.''

If he is serious about peace in South Africa, he should add a call, in both Christian and pragmatic terms, for the rationalization of territorial hegemonies. Unless whites are prepared to accept such a rationalization, the situation he sketches is impossible.

If he took this step forward in his thinking, he and other whites who did the same would find that the middle ground between black and white in South Africa is the only place for men of conscience to be. They would very likely be joined there by Bishop Tutu.

Among the first to move determinedly to that ground should be the English-speaking white South Africans. Not only were their forebears nurtured for a long time in traditions of fair play and pragmatism, but they are still the primary builders of the economy which unites the striving of all races.

Far from being a place of impotence, the middle ground between not-unequally matched nationalisms is a place of power. Not only is there the compulsion of Christian conscience to be exercised on men such as Dr. Treurnicht and Bishop Tutu; there are powerful persuaders in the understanding and investment that English-speakers are best placed to generate in the outside world.

A fully Christian and pragmatic objective for South Africa, which would be enthusiastically encouraged by the West, is a dynamic Economic Community of Azania, embracing white, Zulu, Xhosa, and other national units, which would preserve distinctive cultures.

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