South Africa and the world heard a toned-down version of what originally was a reformist speech when President Pieter W. Botha announced his ``manifesto for a new South Africa'' last Thursday. The nation was abuzz at the weekend with speculation over why he deleted a major component from the first draft. According to diplomatic sources, that draft included an offer to reincorporate the nation's independent ``black homelands'' into South Africa and to restore South African citizenship to their residents.
One explanation for his deleting the offer was that there may have been a rebellion by the more right-wing members of the Cabinet. This theory was given some credence by the conspicuous absence of Foreign Minister Roelof Botha when President Botha delivered his address at the Durban city hall.
Within the ruling National Party, Foreign Minister Botha is a strong advocate of reform to the nation's policy of apartheid, or strict racial segregation. He was largely responsible for raising expectations that the speech would mark a radical new initiative in government policy, instead of, as it transpired, a restatement of government policy as outlined by President Botha in speeches to Parliament in January, April, and June.
According to the diplomatic sources, Foreign Minister Botha (no relation to the President) briefed United States officials -- Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker and national-security adviser Robert McFarlane -- on the first draft when they met in Vienna 10 days ago. Hence the optimism in the White House after the meeting.
There was conjecture immediately after President Botha's speech that the foreign minister had resigned in protest of the second, more conservative draft. The foreign minister sharply denied reports that he had resigned.
Another explanation offered by well-placed informants is that President Botha himself decided against the earlier version.
These informants offer two reasons: First, Botha is known to be strongly adverse to pressure -- whether from the international community or from South Africa's black townships. Second, if he were to make concessions now, he might be perceived as bowing to foreign pressure, which might damage the ruling party's image in the eyes of the South African electorate.
President Botha is not deaf to these considerations. Recent polls have shown that his government's image has fallen among South Africa's white, politically dominant Afrikaners.
Botha's original speech would have marked a radical shift in the government's apartheid policy. By reincorporating the four independent ``black homelands'' into South Africa, nearly half of the nation's 24 million blacks would have regained the South African citizenship taken from them when their homeland became an independent nation. (No nation other than South Africa has recognized the independence of these homelands.)
The creation of homelands and the denationalization of South African blacks are the cornerstone of apartheid policy.
In his speech as delivered, the President hardly mentioned the ``independent homelands,'' except to contend that they ``represent a material part of the solution'' to South Africa's racial problems.
The thrust of his speech was to concentrate on blacks from those homelands which are not independent and which have spurned offers of independence.
Botha agreed that the anti-independence homelands would remain ``a part of the South African nation,'' their supposed citizens would remain South Africans, and that they ``should be accommodated within political institutions within . . . South Africa.''
That in itself is a major deviation from pristine apartheid policy, but it is not new. Botha made the same point in a speech to Parliament in January.
Since then, however, the situation has deteriorated seriously with the imposition of a state of emergency, and the threat of international diplomatic isolation. This year the death toll from violence in the black townships stands at more than 600.
The world, and much of South Africa, expected a policy speech appropriate to the deepening of the crisis, not a reaffirmation of earlier speeches.
Despite the strong criticism he has received since the speech, President Botha has remained unrepentant. He insists that the ``confusion of Babel'' surrounded his speech and that when it is properly studied its positive aspects will be appreciated.
Bishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a staunch opponent of apartheid, does not agree. ``It seemed almost a parody,'' he remarked.
``Here was a state president who had the opportunity of acting in a statesman-like way.
``But he let the opportunity slip, by behaving like a hack politician looking for votes at the expense of the country which is burning.''