``This is a fascist police state!'' preacher Allan Boesak wails to a crowd that has just heard a ``reform'' broadcast by South African President Pieter Botha. ``This government cannot do what history demands at this moment.'' Dr. Boesak symbolizes what seems to be the most powerful current in South Africa's black political whirlpool. It is characterized by anger, mistrust, and a conviction that the white government will never cede anything like majority rule to blacks. But key to President Botha's strategy is the assumption -- or hope -- that other, less militant currents of black opinion will yet win the day.
Botha is making his most concerted bid yet to find credible black leaders with whom to work out a compromise over South Africa's future. He says this compromise will award ``equal treatment and opportunities'' to blacks, though not the kind of equal political rights implied in the one-man, one-vote approach that most black leaders favor. South Africa has about 22 million blacks and about 4.5 million whites.
Botha's hopes for alternative leaders center on men like Gatsha Buthelezi -- who heads a government-backed Zulu ``homeland'' nearly 1,000 miles northeast of where Boesak preaches.
Mr. Buthelezi faces a daunting task in combining the qualities Botha wants in a black partner for reform -- willingness to compromise and political credibility.
Buthelezi's ability to talk to the government is complicated by the fact that blacks reject Botha's handling of the unrest that has battered the country over the past 18 months. While the government has pledged reform, it has cracked down hard on unrest.
In his latest policy speech, Botha said he will set up a Statutory Council where blacks would ``consider and advise on matters of common concern.'' The President has followed up the speech, in recent days, by signaling new resolve to seek black support for such a plan.
He became the first South African leader to make a broadcast appeal to the country's blacks. The message said: ``My government wants to hear your views.''
He then launched a newspaper ad campaign which has:
Added a specific date -- July 1 -- to a pledge he will abolish the present system of passbooks that regulate where blacks can live and work.
Vowed that already promised reforms in race policy would not be the end of the road.
Said he views the intended Statutory Council as forum for a black ``advisory'' role in the government as a ``first step toward institutionalized power sharing.''
Men like Boesak -- though himself classified by South Africa's racial lexicon as a ``colored,'' or of mixed race -- promptly joined other figures like Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu and Soweto community leader Nthato Motlana in cold-shouldering Botha's council idea.
They see the proposal as meaningless at a time when many black areas remain under a state of emergency; when blacks are in jail in connection with political unrest; and when the government has officially banned, and dismisses as communist dupes, the African National Congress which many blacks proclaim as their representative.
ANC leader Nelson Mandela has been in jail since 1962. The ANC's present leadership-in-exile rejected Botha's latest reform proposals.
``I am a Zulu, like Chief Buthelezi,'' remarks one 22-year-old student in the black township of Soweto, outside Johannesburg. ``But Buthelezi does not represent me. . . . Nelson Mandela is our leader.''
Buthulezi, in contrast to at least some other ``homeland'' politicians, has rejected aspects of Botha's strategy. He refused to take the nominal ``independence'' that South Africa has granted four other of the homelands. The independence offer was in keeping with the apartheid principle that South Africa's blacks weren't really part of South Africa -- belonging instead to tribal statelets.
In 1983, Buthelezi opposed a new constitution offering a limited share in national power to Asians and ``coloreds'' and still excluding blacks. He has called on Botha to release ANC leader Mandela. He also rejected an idea similar to the proposed Stautory Council last year.
His first response to Botha's latest initiative seems more positive. He said he would ``consider carefully'' participating in the Statutory Council.
But he implied much would depend on the extent to which the group had true negotiating powers, and the range of issues on its agenda.