There were paradoxical scenes aplenty at this week's congress of the National Party, racist rulers of South Africa for 46 years. "It's totally different, it's spontaneous, it's wonderful," enthused Martinus van Schalkwyk, the party's spokesman. "Afrikaners are usually reserved, but they too got up and sang. It shows there's a new South African culture emerging."
The National Party has certainly reinvented itself since losing last April's multiracial elections. And the forging of that new identity is also the reason that its leader, F W de Klerk, seized the opportunity to capitalise on the biggest rift in his nine-month partnership with President Nelson Mandela's African National Congress in the government of national unity, inpower until elections in 1999.
Mr de Klerk has served notice that his party is determined to build up an image as the chief party of opposition. "It is our right and duty to promote our policy and to attack, criticise and oppose the ANC as our main opponent in the political arena," hetold more than 1,500 delegates in Johanneburg's World Trade Centre.
His comments about being "viciously insulted" and "bullied" in a cabinet row with Mr Mandela on Wednesday sounded petulant coming from a leader whose party systematically repressed South Africa's black majority. But the National Party believes it can claim to have helped bury apartheid and must show the ANC has no monopoly on political vision.
The National Party wants to project itself as the main, multiracial centre-right party, while the ANC, still firmly allied to the Communist Party, becomes the leading party of the left. Race is no longer an issue. Whites are already in a minority in somesenior National Party committees and in the only region where it holds power, the Western Cape.
"Our campaigning is strictly policy based. What sells is economic policy, a fear of socialism, not fear of black Africanism," said Laurence Solomon, a coloured National Party activist from the Cape. "The ANC is identified with rent boycotts, strikes and the Commmunist Party. Coloureds are religious-minded and businessmen. They like respect for property."
Believing home bases among the Afrikaner and coloured communities to be safe - only a few white activists picketed the first day of the congress, bearing signs like "De Klerk is Judas" - the party wants to broaden its appeal to black South Africans. "We only won four to five per cent of the black vote last year. We want disillusionment in the ANC power base to be fertile ground for us," said Mr van Schalkwyz. Local polls in October will show whether the NP can better its performance in 1994, when it won20.4 per cent of the vote, to the ANC's 62.65.Reuse content