South Africa's President Pieter W. Botha yesterday formally abandoned one of the fundamental tenets of apartheid when he undertook to restore South African citizenship to nearly 5 million blacks and to negotiate its restoration to another 5 million. His announcement, in an address to a provincial congress of the ruling National Party, followed decisions earlier this week by the United States and the European Community to impose limited santions on South Africa.
But Desmond Tutu, Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, spurned the proposal as inadequate and threatened to call a national strike if Pretoria did not lift the state of emergency imposed July 21.
Restoring citizenship does not mean giving blacks the vote. But Botha stated that the ``legitimate policy aspirations'' of all blacks, including the 5 million in line to regain citizenship, will be ``accommodated by structures within South Africa.''
In its pristine form apartheid aimed at depriving all blacks of South African citizenship. The objective, as former Cabinet minister Connie Mulder once explained, was a South Africa without black South Africans.
Apartheid, as originally designed, prescribed that all blacks should exercise political rights in 10 designated pseudo-states, or ``homelands.'' When these ``homelands'' became independent -- and it was Pretoria's aim to lead them all to independence -- blacks deemed to belong to them would be stripped of South African citizenship and made citizens of those states.
The ``homelands,'' about 13 percent of the nation's land area, would ultimately have to accommodate the political aspirations of 24 million blacks -- 70 percent of the population.
Four ``homelands'' -- Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei -- have accepted independence from Pretoria. No other country recognizes their so-called independence.
Nearly 10 million blacks were dispossessed of South African citizenship in the process. Blacks living outside their designated ``homeland'' are still regarded as its citizens.
Of the nearly 10 million blacks who lost citizenship between 1976 and 1981, nearly half live outside their assigned ``homelands'' in areas reserved for whites. They are allowed to live in these areas because their employment services are deemed necessary. It was to these blacks that Mr. Botha was referring when he pledged to restore citizenship. Botha said, ``We must consequently accept the South African citizenship of [these] black persons. . . . The necessary legislative amendments will be enacted as soon as possible . . . .''
Of the remaining 5 million living inside the borders of the four nominally sovereign states, Botha said, ``The South African government is prepared to negotiate with these four governments about restoring their South African citizenship.''
But he added, ``We propose that this be done on the basis of dual citizenship,'' implying that these persons may have the option of accepting South African citizenship in addition to their current homeland citizenship.
Botha made it clear earlier, in his response to President Reagan's decision to impose limited sanctions, that blacks will be able to participate in decision-making at the highest level. But he has not yet spelled out how that will be achieved.
Botha's policy realignment came in the midst of strong speculation that the president council's has recommended that South Africa's influx laws, controling where blacks can live, work and travel, be abolished or fundamentally revised. The president's council, with members drawn from each house of Parliament, advises the president on matters of general interest.
All blacks over 16 are required to carry pass books at all times. The pass books are used to enforce the influx control laws that restrict the number of blacks who can live in areas reserved for whites. If legally employed in a white area, a black may live there, although legal citizenship may still reside in the assigned ``homeland.'' The influx laws and the pass book system have long been a major grievance of blacks.
The chairman of the president's council, Pieter Koornof added to expectations that a major change to the influx control system is imminent by calling a press conference for today.
Botha himself alluded to the pending change when he said, ``Uniform identity documents will be issued to all population groups in the near future.
Leaders of black communities [have] requested that the status of black persons as South African citizens, and not only their ethnic identity, be expressed in their identity documents. The government gladly accedes to this request.''
However, black citizens of South Africa, like ``homeland'' blacks are subject to virtually the same tentacles of apartheid.
They are denied the right to vote in national elections, hold national office, or even live or work where they please.