THE political ascent of Frederik de Klerk, leader of South Africa's ruling party, may signal the resurgence of the secretive and nationalist Afrikaner Broederbond (``bond of brothers''). And despite the Broederbond's reputation for obscurantism, some analysts say its likely new prominence under Mr. de Klerk bodes well. This is because the Broederbond has a strong overlap in membership with the National Party, and its coherence and smaller size make it a political pacesetter for the more cumbersome ruling party.
De Klerk, who is expected to replace the retiring P.W.Botha as President, is a member of the Broederbond. One of his closest advisers, Gerrit Viljoen, served as the group's chairman in the 1970s. And most of the Broederbond's estimated 15,000 members occupy pivotal positions in the military, police forces, bureaucracy, and business community. Founded in 1918 largely to combat British hegemony, the group has since actively promoted Afrikaner dominance and, consequently, apartheid (racial segregation).
There is already evidence of a potentially significant shift in the group's stance: A confidential June 1989 Broederbond document obtained by this correspondent hints at proposals to give all racial groups - including South Africa's black majority - a role at ``all levels'' of government.
This document bears striking similarities to the National Party's ``plan of action,'' which was unveiled at a special party congress last month. Both documents stipulate that decision making should be on a consensual basis, meaning that decisions have to be approved by a majority in each group. The notion of ``concurrent majorities'' - as the concept is known - would give the white minority a veto power.
Ferdie Hartzenberg, deputy leader of the Conservative Party (which views the Broederbond as liberal), contends that the ruling party's ``plan of action'' was first thrashed out in a Broederbond session. If true, the advantage for the National Party is that the ``plan of action,'' on which its and De Klerk's election prospects depend, already carries the ``brothers'' seal of approval.
Prominent political analyst Prof. Hermann Giliomee, anticipates that the Broederbond will move to center stage again under De Klerk. The Broederbond, he says, was marginalized somewhat under the presidency of Mr. Botha, who relied heavily on the advice of the military, the police, and the intelligence services.
De Klerk, political analysts observe, prefers civilian to military government; he is thus expected to reassert the primacy of the party - and its Broederbond ``vanguard'' - over the ``securocrats'' who held sway under Botha.
Veteran journalist Hennie Serfontein, who wrote a book entitled ``Brotherhood of Power,'' agrees. He points to the close links between Viljoen and the present chairman of the Broederbond, Dr. Pieter De Lange.
If, to quote the words of a former Broederbond chairman, the group once strove to promote Afrikaner domination, it is now playing a different role, one with a more modest aim: Ensuring Afrikaner survival in era of rapid and traumatic change.
The June document underscores this preoccupation with survival. An earlier 1986 document had spelled out the Broederbond's immediate objective as identifying policies and goals vital to Afrikaner survival and those that could be discarded without imperiling a separate Afrikaner identity. The paper reached two conclusions:
Afrikaner survival does not require the president to be a white man, provided the power of the presidency is restricted.
Afrikaner survival does not require a majority of government members to be white, provided there are guarantees against domination by the black majority.
These conclusions may not seem startling. But within the paradigm of Afrikaner nationalism they are innovative, observers say. A refined version of those ideas were reflected in last month's Broederbond document and, via it, in the National Party's ``plan of action.''
According to Professor Giliomee, those proposals, or variations on them, could serve as a starting point for discussions with outlawed black nationalist movements, particularly the African National Congress.
The De Klerk era has one salient difference from that of Botha, he contends: It is more flexible. He finds it significant that De Klerk no longer requires the ANC to renounce violence as a precondition for negotiations, but merely to commit itself to peace.