JOHANNESBURG, OCT. 4 -- A senior South African official said today that the white minority will have to depend on a bill of individual rights, strong regional governments and political parties rather than race-based groups to defend its interests in a new political order here.
Outlining the latest government thinking about protection of "minority rights" under black majority rule, Roelf Meyer, the deputy constitutional minister, said the government has given up the notion of demanding recognition of "group rights" based on race or color "in any form whatsoever."
He said the government instead was looking at various constitutional mechanisms existing in other countries to protect the white minority, "first of all a bill of rights through which particularly minority interests can be protected or recognized."
"The days of group rights are gone," he said, adding that he meant any definition of "group" based on race, religion or culture.
Although the government has been moving toward this position for some time, Meyer's remarks represent the most unambiguous rejection to date of the "group rights" concept of protecting white minority interests by any South African white official.
His comments indicated that government thinking about the role of whites under a black majority political system has evolved considerably over the past months as highlighted by President Frederik W. de Klerk's recent comments in Washington that one-person, one-vote elections are "possible, even probable."
Until recently, de Klerk and his constitutional experts have called for the recognition of "groups" based on race, language or cultural identity as the nuclei of a new political system and for organizing elections. This approach would have assured the whites a veto over all important legislation.
Despite the rejection of the group approach now, it was evident from Meyer's comments that the government is still seeking various constitutional devices to prevent a future black majority government from imposing its will indiscriminately on the 5 million whites.
Speaking at a Foreign Correspondents Association luncheon, Meyer outlined four other "mechanisms" the government would seek to have adopted in constitutional negotiations with black groups which he said he expects would begin early next year.
These include a devolution of power to regional entities of government, a large degree of autonomy for these entities, a system of checks and balances at the national level and voting procedures that would assure political parties an important role through proportional representation.
While the government has not drawn up a final constitutional proposal for the forthcoming negotiations, Meyer suggested that either parties or the new regional entities might form the basis for representation in a second, upper house of Parliament acting as a counterweight to a first house elected on a strictly "one-man, one-vote" basis.
He did not indicate precisely how the government saw these parties or regional representatives voting or whether a minority would have veto power. But he did say that representation in the second house should be on the basis "of each state having the same representation, in other words totally disproportional to the numbers of the population in the state."
Meyer said the government is looking toward a "federalistic type" of government in which each region would have varying degrees of autonomy, its own governor and assembly. The government was inspired in its thinking by both the American and West German models of government, he said, even though South Africa does not have 50 states and would have to create new regions in addition to the existing four provinces.
De Klerk, during a trip to Natal Province today, spoke of the need for a new system of regional governments to supersede the six nominally self-governing homelands and the present four provinces.
He said it is "clear" that the provincial governments would no longer exist in their present form under the new constitution, adding, "nor will other forms of existing regional government such as the present administrations of the self-governing territories."
He called for "creative thinking about a new system of autonomous regional government."