``What kind of South Africa do we want after apartheid?'' Two prominent whites are threading their way through a political mine field in a bid to get South Africans of all races to resolve, or at least to seek common ground on, that question.
The men, Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Boraine, quit Parliament early this year, saying it was incapable of resolving the country's crisis. They rejected President Pieter W. Botha's moves to ``reform'' race policies and said that only a wholesale scrapping of the apartheid system of race segregation could allow the beginnings of reconciliation.
The men acknowledge that in seeking ``extraparliamentary'' machinery for compromise amid unflagging political violence, they have their work cut out for them.
But, said Mr. Boraine in a phone interview before he joined Mr. Slabbert on a trip to the US Saturday, ``We've been extremely encouraged by the initial response. I've been staggered by its warmth.''
He said he and Slabbert, who was leader of the white liberal opposition in Parliament before resigning, were determined to avoid haste in going public with a plan of action. This is in spite of an approach by Cape Town officials, the Monitor has learned, with a request to help explore the possibility of ``nonracial city government.'' Boraine declined comment on the reported request.
As opposition leader, Slabbert was central in an effort last year to form a ``National Convention'' of blacks and whites to chart a new political course for the country. The initiative failed, falling victim to rifts and rivalries among opponents of apartheid.
``We learned a great deal from the abortive launch of the convention,'' Boraine says. He and Slabbert are not presenting themselves as conveners or brokers. Instead, the aim is to ``try to help facilitate'' others' communication and proposals. The men have avoided allying themselves with any one anti-apartheid leader or group.
The initial vehicle for their campaign is a new Institute for Democratic Alternatives.
``If the title sounds vague, so much the better,'' Boraine explains. He and Slabbert want to avoid ``anything that smacks of white saviors galloping in on horses, or of a political initiative starting with a small group at the top with the aim of imposing it on others.
``Our aim is to discuss, consult, to ask people on all levels throughout the country for their help, advice, and thoughts.'' Since leaving Parliament, the two men have been meeting political, church, and community leaders. Boraine says one encouraging sign is that many blacks have ``appealed to us not to neglect the white constituency, to try to wean whites away from past loyalties and prejudices.''
Yet one black leader, in an interview, offered a sense of the complexity of the new institute's task: ``I think Slabbert did a positive thing by stepping out of Parliament,'' said the leader, one of the people Slabbert has approached in recent weeks. ``But my feeling is that in order to get an opening with the black community, he must do some further things -- like break completely with his old party, really build up a new constituency.''
It is unclear whether Slabbert and Boraine plan such a break. But they seem leery of defining themselves merely as a protest group.
``Many of us in South Africa,'' Boraine says, ``are forceful in identifying what is wrong with the system -- with education, the economy, the Constitution. But what happens after apartheid? What should a new South Africa, a peaceful South Africa, look like? How do we improve education? How would people like the economy organized? What kind of Constitution?
``We don't have the answers. Our hope is to help bring people of different races, political groups, and persuasions together to address such issues.''