When the National Party wrested power from Gen. Smuts in the 1948 election, its mandate basically was to provide for the Afrikaner a position in politics and commerce which had been denied him by the dominance of the English- speaking section of the population since 1805, when the British took control of the Cape in the Napoleonic wars. A program of intense social engineering was embarked upon in 1948 with the object of keeping the looming black power in its place while the process was undertaken of uplifting the Afrikaner from relative rural and commercial impoverishment into the modern world. By the early 1970s this policy, known initially as apartheid, reached its apogee, and Afrikaner intellectuals, businessmen, journalists and some churchmen began, if timidly, to question its moral and practical basis, as it had been questioned by a wide range of non-Nationalist South Africans since its inception. Thinking about the need for reform has thus been going on for at least a decade but it has always been bedeviled by the fact, which Dr. Verwoerd, the chief architect of apartheid, was among the first to recognize, that once the ideology was breached in principle the policy would gradually crumble and the bastions of white power would be broken.

Until quite recently political thinking was not translated into action. Prime Minister John Vorster for a time appeared to be moving forward, but then lost the will to act. His successor, President P. W. Botha, has been prepared to lead and be courageous. It was no small thing to split his tribal support after 37 years of power and perhaps 100 years of dreaming. He has brought the country to a point where the ideology of apartheid has been blown out of the window even if the exorcism has a long way to go in practice. The problem of encouraging and coercing a burgeoning bureaucracy to rid the country of the multitude of apartheid laws, regulations and controls which enmeshes it and which in turn have nurtured that same bureaucracy is considerable; the problem of ridding men's minds of a policy that has demoralized the white and degraded the black may be even greater, but both are problems with which South Africans of whatever hue have to grapple.

Without diminishing in any way the pressure on President Botha to translate reformist intentions into practice, South Africans must now turn their minds to thinking about how to create a new, coherent society that offers reasonable equity to all. If we leave aside the right-wing fringe, which basks irritably in the 19th century and doesn't want to see any change at all, there seem to be two fundamental approaches. The first is to continue to modify the present system -- a process which, in the absence of authoritative statements of direction, leaves the many South Africans who are certainly supporters of reform in some doubt as to what the outcome will be. The approach appears to take into account, nevertheless, the necessity of a form of power- sharing which at least would recognize various real power centers in the country, some of which may be tribal, such as the powerful Zulus, some of which may be the independent homelands (which can by no means be disregarded), some of which may be urban and multiracial, and some of which may even be white.

In our highly complex society I would by no means reject this line of thinking as impractical, and provided it were able to establish a balance of power in a free society shared by everyone, I would not regard it as morally offensive. Nor would it exclude everyone's having the vote, though not necessarily in a single, directly elected assembly. There are of course many possible models within this reformist approach, but whichever one is chosen will have to take account of vast cultural diversity, basic communication problems flowing from the fact that a large part of the population uses a vernacular language rather than English or Afrikaans, and traditions in Africa that are not always democratic.

The other approach stems from the view that any modification of the present structure would be simply serving the same pie in a different dish. It bluntly declares that nothing short of immediate universal suffrage with no protection for minorities or safeguards for institutions is acceptable. This attitude is supported by the African National Congress. I myself have no hesitation in believing that an implementation of such a policy would have a devastating effect on the country and the subcontinent.

It was with some of these considerations in mind that a group of business and newspaper men accepted an invitation from President Kaunda of Zambia to meet members of the ANC under his auspices. President Kaunda has been assiduous in his search for peaceful solutions in the southern subcontinent of Africa and had already hosted meetings at his State House this year in order to convey his views to and hear those of South Africans.

There was no thought on either side that the meeting could turn into a negotiation, but there was certainly a belief that there might emerge from it some degree of constructive understanding, however small. I think there was a worry among both parties that the media might portray the meeting as a sign of weakness on one side or both, but in the event there were no apparent problems, and the two groups met and conversed for six hours under the sage eye of Kenneth Kaunda. Perhaps it was the venue on the banks of the Luangwa River, amiably hosted by elephants, birds and buffalo, which set the tone for a remarkably free and unrestricted exchange of views.

Predictably, there remained great gaps between us: businessmen do not embrace the prospect of nationalization, either in practical or philosophical terms; they know as a matter of fact that economic thinking which derives from the shadowy, incompetent world of worn-out Marxism does not create wealth. On the other hand, who can deny that there are inequities in the generation and distribution of South Africa's wealth? A new society, reformed or revolutionary, would have to apply itself more diligently to the alleviation of deprivation in education, health, and feeding. How would this be paid for? Which economic system would best create growth and wealth? Which political system would best secure the stability required inter alia to encourage investment both local and foreign?

People of liberal disposition need to be reminded that the creation of wealth is the African continent's greatest need -- indeed that without it democracy itself can have no real meaning. The farther south you go, industrial activity and organization somewhat alleviate the miseries of burgeoning populations, but for the most part the continent writhes upon itself, burdened by custom, ennui and lack of education, unable to climb more than the first few steps of the ladder of economic advancement. It remains, unhappily, a continent whose time has yet to come.

In moving into the future one of the most important questions to be asked, therefore, is whether the economic motor of South Africa can be kept going at a sufficient pace to generate some per-capita improvement in living standards for its growing population and be able to contribute also in skill, money and know-how to the development needs of the subcontinent. Growth will depend on a great number of factors, among them the preservation of investment confidence and the availability of capital, the untrammeling of the people so that they can participate fully in a free-enterprise society, and the creation of political structures that have the moral underpinnings to generate acceptability and confidence within and beyond the borders of South Africa.

We have to recognize that formal economic sanctions will have an extremely serious capillary effect in the long term and introduce an increasing number of obstacles to growth by cutting the economy off inter alia from contemporary technology. It should also be obvious that unless the world's bankers become more judicious in their professional attitudes toward South Africa, the financing problems that face the country, and that have nothing to do with its intrinsic viability, will turn South Africa into a capital-exporting country with predictably damaging results for the whole subcontinent in terms of diminished economic activity. Though few politicians yet seem to perceive it, that prospect is already sufficiently close as to render irrelevant and academic the motions calling for sanctions in so many legislatures around the world. More by accident, it seems, than by design, the international banking community may itself be in process of bringing about the economic wasteland in South Africa that well- meaning but mistaken folk argue is the "caring way" to political change.

The international community presumably is hoping for some dramatic gesture from South Africa but I very much doubt whether it will see an immediate handing over of power on a basis of one man one vote, as a great act of expiation for the sins of apartheid and several hundred years of other people's colonialism; nor indeed do I believe that most of the world community would enjoy or profit from the resulting political chaos and economic retreat. It would like to see Mr. Mandela released and so would most South Africans. It would also like to see the beginning of negotiations which President Botha has offered on an open agenda with anyone who abjures violence, and most South Africans would like that too. Many would agree with President Botha, however, that opening negotiations with people who advocate and instigate violence as a means of obtaining the change they want is rather difficult without some give-and-take.

One has to search for common ground even if at this stage the gap between the reformists and the revolutionists in regard to the type of society they envisage is a chasm. At least we have some important things in common -- and nothing I heard in Luangwa significantly qualifies my list.

First, we are all South Africans, a fact recently acknowledged by President Botha in announcing the restoration of South African citizenship to all blacks.

Second, we all wish to have a vital and productive society supported and endorsed by a majority of the population.

Third, a society that would have as one of its major objectives a significant improvement in the health, welfare and education of those who are deprived.

Fourth, that there is a subcontinental community of interest which calls for the consolidation of resources to our mutual benefit rather than their diminishment by quarrels and fighting; we would all prefer the next generation to inherit a viable ongoing estate.

Fifth, that whether the politics are of reform or revolution, political stability will not be bought by votes if the population as a whole enjoys no prospect of improvement in its material condition. That is why I myself would hope, if we were wise at all, that our society should have sufficient coherence to enable us at least to alleviate unbridled population growth in the recognition that in South Africa, as elsewhere on the continent, this is an absolute inhibitor of any real improvement in the condition of man.

Patriotism is a word not much used nowadays; too often for its own good it has tended to rub shoulders with chauvinism, but it deserves another airing. If the leaders of the major groupings of South Africans -- including those now outside the country -- are prepared to put their country's interest first rather than their own political self- interest, then it should not be beyond them to reach an accord in principle along the lines sketched above. In that event, the task of hammering out the details of a new constitution for our complex society should be within their grasp, though it will certainly be difficult and protracted. Without world support, however, nothing approaching success will be possible at all. Censure, by itself, is pure indulgence.