"Keep the Cape in shape'' say billboards put up by the NNP, for whom this province is the last stronghold. But opinion polls now show the party struggling even in the Western Cape: the NNP has 31 per cent to the African National Congress's 30 per cent, and a record 22 per cent are undecided. That means increasing numbers of voters in the Western Cape are defying apartheid's most firmly entrenched race barrier - that between blacks and coloureds (mixed-race people).
In 1994, the National Party as it was still called scored 54 per cent here and won control of the province. Its support came from the majority coloured community, alienated from the ANC, which it saw as black. "We have delivered in this province,'' said Mark Wiley, provincial MP at a rally in Delft, a coloured township of newly built houses on the Cape Flats. "We are taking unroadworthy taxis off the roads and here there is law and order.''
The NNP, whose leaders have endless stories of "profound personal'' experiences of being "born again'' as racially tolerant, presents itself as the party of rigour, discipline and the death penalty. Led by the boyish Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who comes into his own in working-class crowds, the party insists it has nothing in common with the old NP.
On the Flats, where gangsterism and crime dominate everyday concerns, the electorate is receptive to clamp-down talk. "Every weekend, 120 women and children are raped and each year 350 people are murdered,'' said Mr Wiley. He had just received a petition from more than 1,500 people protesting against the arrest of a Hout Bay policeman who shot dead a robbery suspect. "Criminals have more rights than victims,'' said Mr Wiley.
Speaker after speaker at the Flats meeting referred to attacks on "our people'' - the inference being that blacks are taking the homes, the jobs and the lives of coloureds. "I would do more if I could,'' said Mr Wiley, "but the police are in the hands of central government who have cut them from 136,000 nationally to 120,000.'' Yet the ANC, which has a formidable campaigning machine and a budget boosted by foreign supporters, is making inroads.
Young coloureds, who now proclaim themselves also as black, are joining the ruling party, as are young Afrikaaners in the rural Western Cape. The ANC has also won over some notable coloured businessmen scoffed at by the NNP, which claims they have been "bought'' with the promise of lucrative contracts for township building and refurbishing work.
On Tuesday, the ANC's skilful finance minister, Trevor Manuel, whose policies have been widely praised by white business, went to the region. The church hall rally in Constantia - one of the wealthiest suburbs in South Africa - drew a startlingly multi-racial mix.
Whites in loafers sat next to the maids who had pressed their trousers.
"Apartheid was immoral but now we are a society without morals,'' said one white woman. "And maids should have rights, too,'' said a black voice at the back. "And gardeners also. I would like my employer to build me a proper home,'' said a coloured man.
Yet the ANC has had trouble gaining support in coloured NNP bastions such as the Mit-chells Plain township. "The ANC tried to campaign in our area this week,'' said Yusuf Waggie, a councillor, "but they could not find any coloureds to go canvassing with them so they were booed out.'' Whatever the result of Wednesday's poll, the province is likely to be governed by a coalition with the Democratic Party having a role.
The DP, led by Tony Leon, attracts wealthy whites thanks to its Thatcherite economic proposals and an English-liberal culture with a "nimby'' (not in my backyard) flavour.
One poll last week gave the DP a 12 per cent share of the vote in the Western Cape, and there are rumours it would ally itself with the NNP. Nationally, the latest opinion poll, by Opinion '99 on Tuesday, predicted a two-thirds majority for the ANC in parliament and certain victory in nine provinces except the Western Cape.
The poll gave the ruling party whose leader, Thabo Mbeki, will succeed President Nelson Mandela after 2 June, between 66 and 69 per cent of the vote. But it reflects the poor state of South African opposition politics. The joint opposition share of the vote - scattered between 15 parties in the national election - had declined from 30 per cent in March last year to 25 per cent last month.Reuse content