White politics in South Africa since the Act of Union established the country in 1910 has been preoccupied with racial issues. The basis of government rested on racist foundations, with the vote being confined to the white community, with a few exceptions in the Cape Province.

These exceptions were mainly rights of people of mixed African and European descent and were granted in the more liberal traditions of the Cape. Coloreds, as they are known in South Africa, were granted rights not afforded to Africans, who were the indigenous people of the country.

In addition, Indians and Chinese were brought into the country to work in the mines and in the sugar industry. These people were also denied the vote.

When the Union of South Africa was set up, the coloreds could at least vote with whites in electing members of Parliament. But as coloreds increased in number, whites got frightened that the colored vote would soon hold the political balance, so they were removed from the voters' roll by the present ruling Nationalist Party.

This slap in the face politicized the coloreds, and they started throwing in their lot with Africans and Indians as a reaction to their removal from the voters' roll.

Instead of the right to vote with whites and to be represented in the white political institutions, the National Party established the Colored Representative Council, which was charged with a number of administrative responsibilities. The coloreds opposed the introduction of the body, but later participated in it.

The Labor Party, as a colored political party (in South Africa, the law prohibits a party's having a racially mixed membership), took control of the Colored Representative Council and ultimately forced the government to abandon it.

By this time, Africans, who make up 72 percent of South Africa's population, were excluded from participating in white local, provincial and national government.

The government's next move was to establish the President's Council, in which whites, coloreds and Indians were appointed to act as an advisory body to the government. Again, Africans were excluded. They were expected to sit as appointed representatives in a Black Advisory Council. In the event, this council was not established because of my opposition to it.

As a measure of their objection to being disenfranchised and as an expression of political solidarity with Africans, the Reform Party in the Indian community, led by Y. S. Chinsamy, and the Labor Party in the colored community, then led by Sonny Leon, approached me to set up the South African Black Alliance.

The alliance was established in January 1978 and became an important meeting point from which we began developing a common strategy against apartheid. This multi-ethnic solidarity in opposition to apartheid angered the South African government, which tried to discourage its development. The Bureau for State Security went so far as to distribute poison pen pamphlets inciting Zulus against Indians in Durban, and to release tear gas in a hall where we were holding one of our sessions.

The common front we formed pursued its objectives of establishing solidarity by sharing thinking and planning together. We regularly held public meetings where our supporters and outsiders were exhorted to stand in union with us.

The National Party had in the meantime recognized that the kind of opposition Inkatha (the black political organization that I head) and the South African Black Alliance generated could not be contained in the existing political situation.

It therefore set about re-conceiving the country's constitution. The plan finally adopted last year was to replace the existing parliament, based on the time-honored Westminster model, with a tricameral arrangement that catered to whites, coloreds and Indians, and totally excluded Africans. It provided for a numerically dominant white chamber, and two smaller chambers for the Indians and coloreds.

The tricameral parliament will be headed by an executive president elected by an electoral college, again dominated numerically by whites. The executive president will appoint his Cabinet, and he alone will decide what has to be considered by each of the chambers, and what has to be considered by all of them as an issue of common concern.

The whole purpose of the tricameral arrangement is to entrench so-called "self-determination" of racial groups in the country's constitution. Apartheid is thus to be enshrined in the constitution, and Indians and coloreds are to be given second-class political citizenship in so-called white South Africa.

Africans are thus to be excluded by the very nature of the constitution from participating in the government of something like 87 percent of South Africa, which whites claim as their exclusive domain.

Having established formal political links with Africans, the Labor Party in a shock move has now elected to cooperate with whites and to take up the second-class citizenship that has been offered. The coloreds will undoubtedly gain economically, and the disparity between whites' and coloreds' privileges will narrow, while it widens between coloreds and Africans.

From having sworn not to be involved in the President's Council because it did not include Africans, the Labor Party has now gone to accepting the tricameral parliament, which does exactly the same thing. This is, for us, an indefensible political somersault. Africans feel the bitterness that only those who have been betrayed by allies can understand.

The constitutional arrangement that the Labor Party blesses with its support is classical apartheid in the toughest political garb it has ever worn. The colored move is political treachery.

The leader of the Labor Party now talks of being in a better position to put pressure on the government on behalf of all racial groups. We reject that offer, and ask how a people can be represented indirectly and have others argue for them if the possibility was never even discussed with them.

Blacks will never accept that participation in local authorities in dormitory townships and participation in regional administration in so-called homeland government is sufficient to satisfy their political aspirations. It is like saying that people in Texas, Colorado or Kansas should be satisfied with participating in local and state institutions and not aspire to influencing the legislature on Capitol Hill.

These prescriptions by whites of what blacks may or may not be interested in pull the rug from under the feet of those who, like myself, still believe in peaceful change. Blacks will now think more earnestly about the seizure of power through the gun. They are aware that government spokesmen right from Prime Minister P. W. Botha to his senior Cabinet ministers, like C. Heunis, the minister of constitutional development and planning, and S. P. Botha, the minister of manpower utilization, who is second only in seniority to the prime minister, have made categoric statements that blacks will not be included in any future modification of the tricameral arrangement. I mention this only to point out that political discrimination against blacks is regarded as permanent.

It has come as a surprise to black South Africa that the American government, through the State Department, expressed approval of the Labor Party's decision to betray us by going into cahoots with the South African government. Africans, like me, who did not condemn constructive engagement, have been slapped in the face by the statement from John Hughes on behalf of the State Department virtually approving the sticking of a lethal knife by the Labor Party into my back. This is proverbial salt in the political wound.

The issue before us is not whether or not to participate in government-created institutions. Everything to do with black social and economic life in South Africa is government-created, and much of black political life suffers from government prescription and proscription. We did not condemn the colored people for participating in the Colored Representative Council. Our criticism stems from the breaking of a political alliance for the reward of the greater share of the white slice of bread. They have abandoned us as we and not they lose our citizenship together with all democratic rights in so-called white South Africa.

Black so-called states are expected to opt for so-called "independence," to forfeit all their rights as citizens of South Africa and to become foreigners in more than 80 percent of their homeland, which is South Africa. They would then establish a loose relationship with what will be white South Africa, the latter controlling all the wealth of the country. These states within this confederation will remain as impoverished underdeveloped sections of the confederation. I cannot believe that this is what the spokesman for the Reagan administration applauds and approves.

The South African Black Alliance will meet on the 18th and 19th of this month, and the issue of how we relate to the Labor Party after this will be discussed and sorted out then. If their decision results in their falling out of the South African Black Alliance, it will mean that we have a setback. But the problem of black unity has plagued the struggle throughout southern Africa. Alliances and splits, re-alliances and internecine strife have characterized all political forces engaged in the struggle for liberation in the whole of southern Africa.