JOHANNESBURG, SEPT. 11 -- The South African government submitted to the whites-only Parliament today a bill that would provide for the first black general election ever held in the country, one that is designed to form the basis for power-sharing negotiations.
The election of nine at-large blacks to a proposed National Council would represent the first tentative step toward universal suffrage in three centuries of South African history.
However, the proposal already has been rejected by the largest and most representative black antiapartheid organizations in the country, and even by most conservative black leaders.
The council would draft a new constitution for South Africa, one that President Pieter W. Botha has promised will give the black majority a role in running the country.
Chris Heunis, minister of constitutional planning and development, said the election would offer an opportunity to anybody who laid claim to majority support in urban black communities to prove the breadth of their constituency.
Militant black nationalists immediately branded the proposal as a ruse by the white-minority government to draw black "collaborators" into the negotiating process and give them the appearance of credibility, while isolating the legitimate representatives of South Africa's 83 percent nonwhite population.
The exiled African National Congress and the United Democratic Front, a coalition opposing the strict segregation known as apartheid, condemned the election proposal.
Some moderate black urban leaders who have already held low-profile "talks about talks" with Heunis and other senior Cabinet members also said they were wary of the proposal because of the potential for the kind of violence that accompanied the 1983 election that gave Indians and mixed-race "Coloreds" a limited vote in the tricameral Parliament.
Heunis told Parliament that the safety of voters and candidates during the election would be given top priority and that security forces would take steps to prevent violence and intimidation.
He also said the government would launch an extensive campaign to inform South Africa's 23 million blacks about all aspects of the election.
Heunis said every black South African citizen over the age of 18 who lives outside the self-governing "homelands" and who has not been disqualified by having a criminal record would be allowed to vote for the at-large candidates. The homeland residents would elect separate slates of candidates, and Botha has proposed appointing some black leaders to the council.
"It is not at this stage yet possible to lay down a fixed timetable for the formal institution of the council," Heunis said, adding that once Parliament approved the measure, Home Affairs Minister Stoffel Botha would set the election in motion.
The nine black representatives would be elected from areas that "more or less" correspond to regional development districts, administrative regions for blacks, Heunis said.
They would be elected apart from black representatives in the five self-governing tribal "homelands" that have not accepted ostensible independence, Gazankulu, KaNgwane, KwaZulu, Lebowa and Qwaqwa. The "independent" homelands, which will not participate in the vote, are Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei, Venda and KwaNdebele.
Heunis said that black organizations could register with election officials with a view toward nominating candidates and that provision would also be made for independent candidates.
The election of blacks to a National Council was first proposed by Heunis and President Botha in August 1986 at the National Party's convention in Durban.
So far, only one organization representing urban black areas, the Urban Councils Association of South Africa, has said it will participate in such an election.
Its president, Steve Kgame, said his group's strategy is to use all the available platforms for negotiating with the government about reform.
Tom Boya, head of the rival United Municipalities of South Africa, said after talks with Heunis in Pretoria in July that he would insist on certain conditions before participating in a National Council election.
The conditions he listed included the release of political prisoners, including African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, the legalization of all political organizations and the scrapping of all discriminatory laws.
Boya said that in the meantime, however, he would be willing to participate in informal "talks about talks," a step opposed by mainstream antiapartheid groups such as the United Democratic Front, a coalition of 700 groups battling white minority rule.
Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the moderate Zulu leader who is widely regarded as an essential party to any negotiated settlement, has also said he will not participate in or endorse a National Council election unless Mandela is freed and political groups are allowed to function legally.
David Modiba, a council member in the black township of Daveyton who has held "talks about talks" with Heunis and other senior government officials, said in an interview last night that he had opposed the National Council election because of the possibility of violence against candidates.
Modiba also said he had urged the release of political prisoners and the legalization of political groups before any votes are held.
The National Council bill is also expected to face vigorous opposition from the Colored Labor Party, whose leader in Parliament, the Rev. Allan Hendrikse, quit Botha's Cabinet last month over the president's refusal to commit himself to a specific timetable for political change.