The Soweto uprising imparted a body blow to white complacency, and precipitated an urgent search for allies. The major question confronting government was whether constitutional change should be piecemeal – initially incorporating only the coloured and Indian communities, which formed 8% and 3% of the population respectively – or whether it should, from the start, include blacks. The fateful road that it took was to bring coloureds and Indians into Parliament, but not blacks.
To the more enlightened voters it explained that demolishing the symbolism of white supremacy and exclusivity could not happen in one fell swoop, and that the incorporation of blacks would soon follow. To its more conservative supporters the government stressed the need for winning support beyond white ranks for the struggle against blacks. The National Party’s chief information officer appealed to the right wing’s survival instincts. He wrote to Andries Treurnicht, leader of the right wing faction in the NP caucus: ‘I would like to know your view on the idea that we at any price have got to associate the Coloureds as a bloc of 2.5 million with the whites in order to broaden our own power base, and not surrender them to the “black-power” situation.’
By 1980 acute tensions had developed in the NP between the factions under Botha and Andries Treurnicht. The conservative faction was prepared to accept coloured and Indian representation in separate houses of Parliament, but Botha insisted that there could be only one government and one parliament in one country.
On 24 February 1982 Treurnicht and 21 other NP members of Parliament left the caucus and formed the Conservative Party (CP). Previously the NP had suffered ‘splinters’, but this was the end of Afrikaner nationalist unity, cultivated over so many decades. The NP presented the constitution as merely a first step in an unspecified ‘right direction’. The liberal opposition opposed the constitution as a provocation to blacks by underlining their political exclusion, and Buthelezi slammed it. But Chris Heunis, the tough, resourceful and overbearing Minister for Constitutional Development, managed to persuade the Labour Party, the main coloured party working within the system, to participate, which set the ball rolling.
In 1983, the NP held a referendum of white voters in which two-thirds approved the draft constitution. Subsequently elections for the coloured and Indian chambers were held, which showed a lack of broad-based legitimacy. Only 30% of the registered coloured voters and 24% of Indians bothered to vote. The system was introduced in September 1984 with Botha as the first elected state president.
Blacks in general saw the partial incorporation of coloured people and Indians as a blunt rejection of their demand for common citizenship. Their alienation was aggravated when the government offered the homelands system, together with a new system of segregated black local authorities, as a reason for denying blacks any representation in Parliament.