Terrified by the seemingly unassailable dominance of the African National Congress, and chained to its own past as the creator of apartheid, South Africa's National Party yesterday announced it was spearheading a drive to create a new political force in the country.
The announcement by the South African Deputy President, FW de Klerk, the party leader, contradicted reports on Sunday that the NP was ready to disband and reinvent itself with a new name and image "based on Christian principles".
"What we are trying to do is realign the South African political scene," said the NP spokes-man, Marthinus van Schalkwyk. "Mr De Klerk has taken the initiative. We now invite other parties and organisations to react to this. This is not a short-term process. It will happen over the long term, but we believe it is for the good of South Africa."
Mr De Klerk denied that the move was a ploy to save his political career or to rescue the NP's dwindling political fortunes. He said the initiative was in the country's best interests. He also said that he was 90 per cent sure that the 1999 general election would be contested by parties under their current banners but he did not rule out the possibility of political alliances to present a more effective political challenge to President Mandela's ANC.
However, many political commentators have said that Mr De Klerk's initiative has an undeniable bearing on the NP's failure thus far to capture the hearts and minds of black communities. Professor Albert Venter, head of political studies at Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg, said the NP had been unable to broaden its appeal beyond 20 per cent of the vote. "If it has any hope of eroding the ANC's support base it has to capture 40 to 45 per cent of the vote," he said.