In the early 1980s, Botha's National Party government started to recognise the inevitability of the need to reform apartheid. Early reforms were driven by a combination of internal violence, international condemnation, changes within the National Party's constituency, and changing demographics—whites constituted only 16% of the total population, in comparison to 20% fifty years earlier. In 1983, a new constitution was passed implementing what was called the Tricameral Parliament, giving coloureds and Indians voting rights and parliamentary representation in separate houses – the House of Assembly (178 members) for whites, the House of Representatives (85 members) for coloureds and the House of Delegates (45 members) for Indians. Each House handled laws pertaining to its racial group's "own affairs", including health, education and other community issues. All laws relating to "general affairs" (matters such as defence, industry, taxation and Black affairs) were handled by a cabinet made up of representatives from all three houses. However, the white chamber had a large majority on this cabinet, ensuring that effective control of the country remained in white hands. Blacks, although making up the majority of the population, were excluded from representation; they remained nominal citizens of their homelands. The first Tricameral elections were largely boycotted by Coloured and Indian voters, amid widespread rioting.
Reforms and contact with the ANC under Botha
Concerned over the popularity of Mandela, Botha denounced him as an arch-Marxist committed to violent revolution, but to appease black opinion and nurture Mandela as a benevolent leader of blacks, the government moved him from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in a rural area just outside Cape Town, where prison life was easier. The government allowed Mandela more visitors, including visits and interviews by foreigners, to let the world know that he was being treated well.
Black homelands were declared nation-states and pass laws were abolished. Black labour unions were legitimised, the government recognised the right of blacks to live in urban areas permanently and gave blacks property rights there. Interest was expressed in rescinding the law against interracial marriage and also rescinding the law against sex between the races, which was under ridicule abroad. The spending for black schools increased, to one-seventh of what was spent per white child, up from on one-sixteenth in 1968. At the same time, attention was given to strengthening the effectiveness of the police apparatus.
In January 1985, Botha addressed the government's House of Assembly and stated that the government was willing to release Mandela on condition that Mandela pledge opposition to acts of violence to further political objectives. Mandela's reply was read in public by his daughter Zinzi – his first words distributed publicly since his sentence to prison twenty-one years before. Mandela described violence as the responsibility of the apartheid regime and said that with democracy there would be no need for violence. The crowd listening to the reading of his speech erupted in cheers and chants. This response helped to further elevate Mandela's status in the eyes of those, both internationally and domestically, who opposed apartheid.
Between 1986 and 1988, some petty apartheid laws were repealed. Botha told white South Africans to "adapt or die" and twice he wavered on the eve of what were billed as "rubicon" announcements of substantial reforms, although on both occasions he backed away from substantial changes. Ironically, these reforms served only to trigger intensified political violence through the remainder of the eighties as more communities and political groups across the country joined the resistance movement. Botha's government stopped short of substantial reforms, such as lifting the ban on the ANC, PAC and SACP and other liberation organisations, releasing political prisoners, or repealing the foundation laws of grand apartheid. The government's stance was that they would not contemplate negotiating until those organisations "renounced violence".
By 1987, South Africa's economy was growing at one of the lowest rates in the world, and the ban on South African participation in international sporting events was frustrating many whites in South Africa. Examples of African states with black leaders and white minorities existed in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Whispers of South Africa one day having a black President sent more hardline whites into Rightist parties. Mandela was moved to a four-bedroom house of his own, with a swimming pool and shaded by fir trees, on a prison farm just outside Cape Town. He had an unpublicised meeting with Botha. Botha impressed Mandela by walking forward, extending his hand and pouring Mandela's tea. The two had a friendly discussion, with Mandela comparing the African National Congress' rebellion with that of the Afrikaner rebellion and talking about everyone being brothers.