S. Africa puts nonwhites in Cabinet, but few call it race progress

The South African government has a new look. But only time will tell whether a change in the substance of the policy of apartheid is to follow. On Saturday President Pieter Botha named a new Cabinet that for the first time in the country's history includes two nonwhites. They are the Rev. Allan Hendrickse, a Colored (person of mixed race), and Amichand Rajbansi, a South African of Indian descent.

But neither Hendrikse nor Rajbansi were given portfolios, underscoring the fact that under a new-style government adopted here Sept. 3., power still rests in the hands of whites.

Botha's new Cabinet does not appear to signal any new direction for the government. The biggest change outside the naming of nonwhite members was a bureaucratic shuffling of some of the functions of the Department of Cooperation and Development, which controls black affairs. It remains to be seen whether transferring these functions to other departments will result in better treatment for blacks. But any improvements could only be marginal while the harsh laws remain, say most analysts.

The key features of South Africa's new-style government are a tricameral Parliament and the establishment of an office of ''executive state president,'' which shifts more power to the chief executive than he had as a prime minister.

Pieter Botha was inaugurated last Friday as South Africa's new president, proclaiming at a sunny ceremony at the foot of Table Mountain, ''We are on the threshold of a new dawn.''

At this stage, though, South Africa's new Constitution is beginning under an enormous cloud.

The tricameral Parliament brings Coloreds and Indians into the legislature - where they occupy segregated chambers - as junior partners to whites. But blacks remain excluded.

The exclusion of blacks prompted many Indians and Coloreds to boycott parliamentary elections last month. In the end only a small minority of each group voted, suggesting most either rejected the new Parliament or remained unconvinced that it represented real reform.

The Constitution has triggered violent black protest and a retaliatory government crackdown on political dissent. Most analysts believe the country's black townships are in a volatile mood.

The swell of opposition to the restyled government puts its new Colored and Indian members under enormous pressure to quickly score some gains to justify their participation. Both Hendrickse, leader of the Colored Labor Party, and Rajbansi, leader of the dominant Indian National People's Party, have vowed to change apartheid from within the political system. Critics say that is impossible.

It is clear the only power the Colored and Indian participants have is largely a negative one. Ultimately their only weapon is to threaten to resign if Botha does not introduce meaningful changes. Botha has staked his career on the new tricameral Parliament and will resist - to a point - its collapse, political analysts say.

The new Constitution has apparently not yet convinced the outside world that real reform is under way. Not one head of state attended Botha's inauguration.

The most surprising visitor to the inauguration ceremony was Dr. Jonas Savimbi, leader of the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebel movement in Angola. Pretoria's support for UNITA is well known. But Savimbi's visit was a surprisingly overt demonstration of his South Africa connection.

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