After 20 months of violent protest at home against South Africa’s white-supremacy system and growing foreign condemnation of apartheid, the government of President Pieter W. Botha last week received a different but equally blunt message from its own core constituency—white voters. In five byelections, voters turned against his ruling National Party (NP). Indeed, in the wealthy Sasolburg constituency south of Johannesburg, the right-wing Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP) won its first seat since the party was formed in 1969 to fight racial integration. The loss of Sasolburg—and reduced NP majorities in the other ridings—appeared to confirm fears of a white backlash against the black unrest that has claimed almost 800 lives. Said Botha: “A large number of prudent South Africans hestitate to go along with the National Party on the path of realism and level-headedness. Their opinions have to be taken into consideration.” After the byelections the NP holds 122 seats in the 178-member white assembly, which dominates South Africa’s segregated three-chamber parliament. And Botha will not have to call a general election until 1988. Still, the message from white voters was clear. In Springs, a whites-only city southeast of Johannesburg, the NP majority was reduced to 749 votes from 2,481 in the 1981 general election, as the rightwing Conservative party, which broke away from the NP in 1982 over apartheid reform, drew more than 4,500
votes. In all, parties opposing powersharing received 22,547 votes—a 200per-cent increase over the 1981 ballot.
The election campaigns centred on Botha’s recent concessions to nonwhites, including the 1984 creation of separate parliamentary assemblies for Indian and mixed-race “colored” minorities and the repeal of laws barring mixed marriages and interracial sex. But many South African whites fear those reforms are only the start of a process that will lead to a black takeover. Indeed, in Sasolburg HNP supporters distributed 10,000 pamphlets warning voters that children of mixedrace marriages “could live in your street and could go to your schools.”
Meanwhile, the protests of South Africa’s disenfranchised black majority—17.5 million of the nation’s 25.5 million people—persisted through the week. Seven blacks died in racial violence, and black rioters opened fire on police outside Cape Town, wounding two officers. On Saturday, the government banned photographers and film crews from riot-torn areas, arguing that the presence of television acted as a catalyst to violence. Botha blamed the unrest, as well as economic recession and drought, for his party’s disappointing performance. But the victorious HNP candidate in Sasolburg, Louis Stofberg, saw it differently. Botha’s policies, he said, “will bring blacks into power—and that is the ultimate sin in the voters’ eyes.”
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