The South African government has proposed measures to lift some restrictions on where several million black urban dwellers may live and work and to pave the way for self-governing black municipal authorities.
However, these measures are to be coupled with other steps that would inhibit more severely the migration of blacks from the rural, underdeveloped tribal homelands, where there are few job opportunities. Other restrictions would ensure that the number of blacks having the right to live permanently in urban areas is carefully controlled.
Altogether, the legislative package with these changes -- which the minister for black affairs. Piet Koornhof, said would be passed by the all-white Parliament next year -- appears aimed at creating a stable, prospering but numerically limited black urban population in which, as far as possible, everyone has a job and a house.
This is a key part of the government's self-declared "total strategy" to counter revolution by giving blacks a "stake in the system."
The full impact of the laws and their effect on the lives of urban blacks cannot be determined until the government releases details of two other bills that will set guidelines for labor control and establish a new kind of identity document for black urban dwellers.
Koornhof presented the three draft bills to foreign journalists and declared that they were "a genuine attempt to remove hurtful discrimination from the statute books."
"By some yardsticks, there will be imperfections" in the new system, he said, "but it is at least the beginning of the process of normalizing race relations in this country." In a departure from past government practice, he invited public comment on the draft bills.
The minister justified maintaining restrictions on the migration of blacks to urban areas as a way to control "the tremendous urbanization process over the next quarter of a century and beyond."
In a country where a white minority is unilaterally seeking to control the migration of a disenfranchised black majority, the controls are likely to be seen as a way for whites to maintain their dominant position in the richest and most industrialized part of the country.
Most black leaders reacted unenthusiastically to the announced measures. "Such steps come rather too late," said Steve Kgame, president of the Urban Council Association, a moderate group of black community leaders. "In the 1980s, the demands are that the black man . . . wants to handle the country's affairs, to run the government of the country in which he lives."
The new system "stops all black urbanization dead in its tracks," said Sheena Duncan, an official of the Black Sash, a group of white women helping blacks who have violated the so-called "pass" or influx control laws.
The government does have extensive plans to promote economic development close to the homelands, but the huge investment and years required for this means a long-term dearth of jobs in these areas.
Under the new system, blacks who are "qualified" to live in an urban area -- that is, those who have a job and government-approved housing -- may move to other urban areas provided they find a job and housing in the new place. Koornhof could not say how many blacks might qualify for this new freedom.
The new system would also make it easier for these "qualified" blacks to bring their dependents to live with them in the cities. In addition, the time during which blacks can visit an urban area has been increased from 72 hours to a yearly aggregate for 30 days.
This promise of new mobility loses some of its appeal, however, when the huge backlog of housing for blacks in urban areas is considered. In Soweto alone, 33,000 houses are needed for families now on a waiting list.
A law that enforces a curfew against blacks in white areas from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and another that allows police to arrest a black found to be "idle" in an urban area will be scrapped next year, Koornhof said.
Koornhof added that he hopes these changes will eliminate most of the arrests -- last year there were nearly 120,000 -- under the pass laws.
Along with these favorable steps however, come heavier penalties for persons who give shelter to "illegal" or "disqualified" blacks -- that is, those who are living or working in cities without the necessary approval of the labor authorities.