De Klerk targets the black vote: With opinion polls showing support declining, the Nationalists offer free food and T-shirts to broaden their appeal

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The Independent Online
MOSES is not the sort of person who two years ago one would have expected to see at a National Party (NP) event, except perhaps in the kitchen. But since then, as the NP leader, F W de Klerk, says, South Africa has changed drastically.

Black, 15 years old, wearing a blue shirt with two buttons missing, brown nylon trousers, a Stars and Stripes cloth wrapped around his head, Moses was not out of place at a weekend rally of the party that invented apartheid.

Did he like the National Party? 'National Party very good.' Why? 'They help me with my schooling.' How? 'They give me ballpen.'

That was not all the NP was providing for the newly faithful, for the 2,000 blacks out of a total of 3,000 who came to cheer Mr de Klerk at Johannesburg's cavernous World Trade Centre. First there were free bus rides from Soweto and elsewhere - and free soft drinks, free T-shirts, free sun-visors and, above all, free food. Big dollops of ice cream, sandwiches, pies, crisps, hot lunches.

A large lady called Rose, alerted to the delights on offer, had brought with her a big cardboard box. As she sat listening to the speeches, the box lay at her feet, packed with orange juice cartons and cheese-and-onion crisps to take home. Had she converted to the NP? She smiled. 'I haven't made up my mind yet.'

Sir Tim Bell, Margaret Thatcher's long-time confidant and professional image-maker, has been hired by the National Party to sway Rose and other floating voters, black and white, in time for the 27 April election. The measure of Sir Tim's challenge is that, according to the polls, the NP's national support has declined from 20 per cent-plus last year to 12 per cent.

Winning talk, with the odd outlandish claim, was perhaps the advice he gave for yesterday. 'Our goal is to come first in the coming election,' Mr de Klerk said. 'It is the National Party that has killed apartheid. It is the National Party that has wrung apartheid's neck.'

Some blacks apparently believed him. Sifiso, a well-spoken 20-year- old who preferred not to give his last name for fear of retribution in the townships, reasoned that the NP should be given another chance. 'De Klerk, I call him a hero. He released Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison.'

If you had shut your eyes the moment President de Klerk arrived, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was indeed Mr Mandela entering the hall, such was the riot of noise, the stirring 'Vivas' echoing from the 2,000 black - if not the 1,000 white - throats. But, in a bizarre parody of the ANC, what the crowd were actually chanting was not 'Viva Mandela]' but 'Viva F W de Klerk]'. Instead of 'Down with de Klerk] Down]' it was, in Zulu (the lingua franca of Soweto), 'Phansi ANC] Phansi]'

The white folks, who in the feudal manner were concentrated in the front rows, put a brave face on it. Dorothy Beard, 90 this month, said she had been an NP supporter since before the first of their 14 successive election victories in 1948. 'I think it's the right thing. I'm sitting on one row amongst all the blacks. I watch them and I think, 'It's got to come'. You see, we've got to be diplomatic.'

Betsy Schoeman, a blonde in her fifties from Pretoria, was also a life- long NP supporter. Was it her first rally in the company of blacks? 'Yes. It's wonderful] We need the enthusiasm of these people. We think they're very delightful.'

WASHINGTON - After apartheid, South Africa's central foreign policy goal will be to help make the world 'safe for diversity', Mr Mandela writes in Foreign Affairs magazine, AP reports. 'The growing violence of narrow 'nationalism', which can lead to the Balkanisation of states, is of particular concern to South Africans,' he says.