While world and national attention remains focused on the two-week-old state of emergency here, the South African Parliament today finished approving a major package of reforms in some of the key elements of the apartheid system of racial segregation.
The moves illustrate the dilemma of the white-minority government here, which claims to be dismantling apartheid. For while these measures have cost the government further support on its white right flank, which accuses it of starting down the road to black majority rule, they have not attracted any noticeable backing from black leaders, who generally deride them as too little and too late.
In the past week, the government has abolished 34 separate acts that together constitute South Africa's notorious "pass laws," which for decades required blacks to carry written passes to be allowed to live and work in the country's so-called whites-only cities.
Today Parliament finished passage of another bill restoring South African citizenship to about 20 percent of those blacks who lost it when the tribal "homelands" they supposedly belong to were declared "independent" by the Pretoria government. It also approved a bill giving urban blacks a limited increase in local self-government.
Part of the problem, say opponents, is that the moves are taking place in a climate of such fear and anger in the black communities due to the government's emergency crackdown that no legitimate black leader is prepared to endorse them.
"These are steps in the right direction," said Helen Suzman, a veteran opposition member of Parliament. "But recent events have been so traumatic, what with the state of emergency and all the tensions, that their impact has been lost. They've been overtaken by an avalanche."
Many opponents believe the government has loaded the reform package with loopholes and fine print that still leave most blacks at the mercy of the entrenched and recalcitrant white bureaucracy that will interpret and administer it.
While Suzman believes the government has acted in good faith, other critics contend it has reneged on an important part of the promises made by President Pieter W. Botha last September when he announced plans to restore black citizenship.
Although Botha held out the hope that citizenship would be given back to the 9 million blacks who lost it when their four "homelands" gained independence over the past decade, the bill passed today affects only 1.8 million of them. It also requires those who qualify to make written application to the government.
"I was just plain stupid to believe what Botha was saying," said Sheena Duncan, former president of the Black Sash civil rights group, who last year hailed the president's speech as a potential breakthrough in removing one of apartheid's most fundamental pillars. "In its execution, this bill falls so far short of his promise that it is appalling."
"There is too much fine print," said John Kane-Berman, director of the South African Institute of Race Relations. "In a political sense it's obviously of great symbolic importance. But the government is acting in bad faith. They took away citizenship with a stroke of a pen, and it should be restored the same way.
"Making people apply to get their citizenship back is like robbing a guy and then saying, 'Okay, I'll give you back the money -- just fill in this form in triplicate.' "
Nothing in the reform package affects other pillars of apartheid, most notably the Population Registration Act, which requires people to be classified according to their race, and the Group Areas Act, which enforces strict segregation of neighborhoods and schools. Blacks are still denied the right to vote in national elections.
Nonetheless, citizenship for blacks has long been a key issue in the debate over South Africa's future. The architects of the apartheid system had originally sought to "denationalize" all blacks by consigning them to 10 homelands, all of which would eventually gain "independence" from white South Africa. Under the plan, known as "grand apartheid," the only blacks allowed to remain in white areas would be considered "temporary sojourners" and aliens with no legal right to remain beyond a stipulated time period.
The "grand apartheid" ideology has been modified by the ruling National Party because of black opposition and because South Africa's sophisticated postindustrial urban economy cannot function with "temporary sojourners" of limited training and skills as its basic labor component. The government has gradually recognized that many blacks must be allowed to live permanently in urban areas and enjoy some political rights there.
But the homelands themselves have not been scrapped. In fact, the government has plans to grant "independence," which is not internationally recognized, to a fifth homeland, KwaNdebele, later this year.
That is where the crunch comes on the new citizenship bill, say analysts. While the government is willing to restore citizenship to those blacks who can prove they are permanent residents of white South Africa, those who either live in or return periodically to their rural homelands are excluded. They remain aliens, with few or no legal rights outside those homelands.
For them, says Geoff Budlender, the lawyer who heads the Legal Resources Center here, South Africa's stringent Aliens Act, whose limits on movement and residence are very similar to the pass laws now being abolished, still applies.
There was less discord over the abolition of the pass laws, under which over 2 million blacks have been arrested during the last decade. The abolition bills replace the hated "passes" with a system of nonracial identification cards that are supposed to be issued to all citizens.
But critics note that the scrapping of the laws has been accompanied by a strengthening of South Africa's tough antisquatter laws.
As a result, while "nonalien" blacks no longer need passes to enter urban areas, they are still not entitled to remain in those areas unless they can find housing. Suzman estimates there is a shortage of at least 500,000 houses in black urban areas. Without a government commitment to a massive housing program, most blacks will still be legally denied access to urban areas, she and other critics say.