JOHANNESBURG, OCT. 5 -- President Pieter W. Botha today gave the government's endorsement to limited changes in South Africa's apartheid laws that would, for the first time, permit some communities to be integrated if the residents want it.
But Botha said he could not accept a second major recommendation by a presidential commission to repeal a law that segregates public facilities, such as parks and beaches, on a nationwide basis.
He also said that public schools in communities that choose to become multiracial should remain segregated, although integrated private schools would continue to be allowed.
None of the commission's proposals to make possible nonracial voting -- at the local level in communities that declare themselves open to all races -- was acceptable to the government, Botha said. The proposals ranged from open voting rolls to no voting rights for those who integrate neighborhoods.
Speaking to Parliament at the opening of a debate on the 1953 Group Areas Act, which contains statutory barriers to integrated residential districts, Botha said it was no longer practical to separate races completely by residential area, when some South Africans want to live in mixed-race neighborhoods.
Botha said that in a society as ethnically diverse as South Africa's, there are people who want to live exclusively with their own racial group and others "who do not attach so much importance to it."
"On the one hand, it would be unjustifiable to deny those who do want to live amidst their own community the right to do so. On the other hand, it would not be correct to deny those who prefer to live in the context of an open area their right to do that," Botha said.
Botha reiterated the position adopted last month by a commission of the advisory President's Council that integration should not be forced on whites or other racial groups. But he endorsed the recommendation that residents of a neighborhood could use a "local option" and rezone their community for interracial living, subject to veto by a government-appointed administrator.
New communities could follow similar rezoning to become integrated from the start, according to the commission's proposals.
The proposed reform, if adopted, virtually guarantees that most of South Africa will remain racially segregated. As the commission acknowledged in its report, the practical effect of the change will be to open affluent, all-white suburbs to those nonwhites who can afford to live there, while lower income blue-collar communities are likely to choose to remain segregated.
Botha said that a new board of "recognized" experts would be appointed to "investigate the desirability of opening up particular areas." The board would probably replace the current Group Areas Board, which reviews applications for exceptions to statutory segregation in housing.
The Parliament, which is controlled by Botha's ruling National Party, will have to approve the changes in the law.
Antiapartheid groups and most of South Africa's black leaders have condemned the commission's proposals as "neoapartheid" and have demanded abolition of the Group Areas Act.
Botha said implementation of the proposals would be postponed until studies were made of how voting rights would be provided in newly integrated neighborhoods and how decisions to declare areas "open" would be made. He warned South Africans not to defy existing apartheid laws while the new arrangements were being made, adding, "Such action could result in serious uncertainty and even chaos."
Botha said that the principle inherent in the commission's recommendation that the Separate Amenities Act be repealed was acceptable to the government, but that "because the complications caused by its scrapping would create administrative chaos," further study of guidelines was needed.
"It would be irresponsible on the part of the government to repeal legislation on such sensitive matters without further ado, not knowing the consequences of such action and without laying down policy guidelines for future action," he said.
While the government "cannot be blind to the realities of our multiracial society," Botha declared, it must recognize that racial groups "manifest their community life" at beaches, parks, swimming pools, resorts and other places of amusement.
"With regard to some such facilities, groups must have the assurance that the law of the country recognizes their right to their own institutions and that this is guaranteed for them," Botha said.
He added, "A balance should be sought, which cannot be found in the strict application of the present act -- an act which was never a success in any case."