Well, of course apartheid has to go. The only question is how, and how quickly.
One hears some version of that new orthodoxy so consistently here that it is almost a relief to run into Carel W. Boshoff, theology professor at Pretoria University and son-in-law of the former prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd.
Even he is cautious in his defense. "I prefer not to use the word 'apartheid,' because I think it's emotionally loaded and suggests a negative attitude," he says at the beginning of an interview in his huge and comfortable home a few miles outside Pretoria. "I prefer to say 'separate development' or the self-determination of nations.
"The idea I stand for is this: We have to choose between two options -- either a common society or a commonwealth of nations."
And the tall, gracious academic leaves no doubt that he finds the first option unworkable.
"The idea is attractive to me, but it doesn't take into account the realities of the situation. The reality is that South Africa is not a homogeneous community. And it isn't just a matter of color. Color is a minor problem. It is much more a question of the diversity of nations. We've got the problem (of having) to communicate that to Americans, who say "We've got different nations and colors and ethnic groups too." But the difference is that you've got the WASP society, and that is the main society, with pluralism in minor groups, and therefore it's possible to accommodate diversity in one state.
"In America, the main group is overwhelming in numbers and in power -- in financial power, political power, cultural homogeneity and so on. So we cannot compare ourselves with America.
"We have power, but you cannot maintain that. It's impossible to maintain power as a minority group."
His solution: a half-sophisticated, half-naive version of the government's discredited "homelands" policy.
"The idea of a homeland as a poor area, undeveloped and scattered, is not my idea. I mean, rather, partition and development of growth points. As far back as 1976, I called for a Marshall Plan (for homelands development) with the support of the international community. If we divide the country in such a way that different nations can develop together, then we could have a commonwealth structure."
Aside from the military difficulty of maintaining power, what, in Boshoff's view, is wrong with the present setup?
"I don't think the status quo is tenable, philosophically or religiously. I don't think it's possible to rule 80 percent of the population with 20 percent. I think it's impossible to remain in the status quo. We, the power-holding community, cannot defend it to anyone, that the whites are in charge and wish to stay in charge."
But if indefinite white rule is impossible, so too, he believes, is power-sharing in a unitary or federal state. "What happened in Katanga? What happened in Biafra? Minority groups do not wish to be ruled by someone else. We see this in what was Rhodesia. While fighting the (Ian) Smith regime, they formed the United Patriotic Movement. Mr. Smith was eliminated, and now they are neither united nor patriotic. It is two nations, the Mashona and the Matabele."
Like so many schemes hatched by the ruling Afrikaners, Boshoff's earnest cerebration has this fatal flaw: no self-respecting black leader will take it seriously -- even as a starting point for negotiations.
In fact, Boshoff acknowledges that black leaders here reject the idea of negotiations, but he thinks it is because they see open-ended negotiations as a ruse. "They ask for a plan so that they can prepare themselves for negotiations, and I think we need a plan."
But the plan Boshoff has in mind sounds suspiciously like leaving the white minority in charge of the cities, the industry and all of developed South Africa, while hoping that blacks will be attracted to the development potential of some enhanced homeland. Does he really believe that such a scheme -- or any scheme -- can deliver South Africa from its present crisis?
"At this moment, I'm still optimistic," he says. "Why? Because I am a Christian, because I believe that God's hand will be good to us, and because I think there is still enough common sense among us that we can sit down and talk, just as you and I are doing now."