In his victory speech after winning a seat in Parliament Wednesday, South African Foreign Minister R. F. (Pik) Botha called his overwhelming majority a mandate for moving away from discrimination against nonwhites.
The next day, Cabinet official Andries Treurnicht declared that future changes would not include the repeal of discriminatory legislation, arguing that there would be no sense in having separate political structures for different races if social separation systems were abandoned.
The contradictory declarations of two top-level officials, both considered to be in line to succeed Prime Minister John Vorster, has led to a crisis of confidence here over where the government stands on the most crucial issue facing it.
At this point neither blacks nor whites know how - of if - the government is planning to respond to 11 months of sporadic racial unrest and increasing international condemnation over its apartheid policies. Several recent incidents have only added ot the confusion.
Three weeks ago officials announced a dramatic increase - 30 to 80 per cent - on rents in African homes in Soweto, Johannesburg's sprawling black township.
Thousands of students launched a one-day protest againts the steep hikes, and the government temporarily withdrew the increase, promising an investigation.
More than two months ago, the government announced that it would put streetlights in Soweto to help cut the soaring crime rate. Today, however, the white municipal council said the decision on the street-light plan was not final, explaining, "You can't enter frivolously into a project of this nature."
In March, the government introduced in Parliament a strict new press-censorship bill. After an outcry from local newspapers, the officials announced that it would be withdrawn for a year to give the press time to "discipline" itself.
The growing confusion over where the government stands and what it plans to do led one South African to be able to predict what Vorster's people were going to do right down to the language used to explain it. But now even a government announcement doesn't necessarily mean it's really going to happen."
Roy MacNab, director of the South African Foundation, was even harder on the government in a recent speech in London:
"What is puzzling when one considers the new mood of expectancy in the country is the failure so far of politicians, particularly those entrusted with the authority of government, to give a lead which would match this mood."
Urban black leaders, especially students, take a similar line, with another complaint: The proposed government programs deal only with surface problems, not the basic ones.
On the rent dispute, a Soweto youth said this week that an investigation into the issue would not come up with answers to the real problem, growing black poverty, which results from soaring unemployment, rising prices for basic goods, and spiraling inflation - all of which have hit Africans harder than whites.
"The government doesn't seem to recognize what the real problem is," he said. "We were protesting the cost of living, not just higher payment for government-owned homes."
Inflation is about 11 per cent for the country's 4 million whites, according to the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce, while a spokesman said an "optimistic projection" for the 16 million blacks this year is 18 per cent.
Unemployment is estimated to be about 15 per cent for whites, Asians and "Coloreds" (people of mixed race) and "much higher" for blacks, according to the Bureau of Economic Research at the University of Stellenbosch.
Meanwhile, the prices of milk, corn (the basic ingredient for the main Affican dish), bread and bus rises have increased significantly.
As the student added, the rent hike could not come at a worse time for financially troubled black families.
"Are these people so out of touch that they don't understand what we are saying to them?" he asked, adding that the government "keeps coming back with these ridiculous token gestures, which you can't count on anyway."