SA opinion polls say ANC is assured of electoral victory: Despite the boycott call by the Zulu King and Buthelezi, half the Inkatha supporters in survey voice their intention to vote

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THE LAST opinion polls South Africans will see before the elections in three weeks' time indicates that the African National Congress is assured of victory but is losing support, while F W de Klerk's National Party is gaining ground from the black and white right wing.

By decree of the Independent Electoral Commission, the body organising and adjudicating on the elections, no more electoral surveys may be published between now and the final day of the three days during which South Africans will be voting, 28 April. The concern is not to influence the result unfairly.

The Johannesburg Sunday Times found that ANC support had dropped from 65.9 per cent in November to 56.5 per cent last month. The National Party had grown from 14.5 per cent to 19.9 and the white right, which has splintered in recent weeks, had dropped from 5 per cent to 1 per cent.

In a separate poll conducted by the Durban-based Institute for Multi-Party Democracy under the aegis of the Oxford academic and long-time Inkatha devotee R W Johnson, it emerged that even if the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, had decided to join the elections he would have struggled badly against the ANC in his own Zulu heartland of Natal/KwaZulu.

While ANC support remained more or less constant in the province at a shade over 50 per cent, Inkatha's had dropped from 32.7 to 24.8 per cent since November. The National Party, whose provincial support has grown from 9.5 to 19.5 per cent, has been the main beneficiary of Chief Buthelezi's decision not to join the elections. The importance of the poll is that Natal/ KwaZulu will have its own federal parliament after the elections.

Despite Chief Buthelezi's - and Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini's - call for 'the Zulu nation' not to vote, half of Inkatha supporters said they were determined to do so.

The Sunday Times' more comprehensive national poll also put the ANC comfortably ahead of Inkatha in Natal. It also showed that support for Inkatha among whites, which was high in November, has virtually ceased to exist.

The polls reinforce the widespread perception that the main reason Chief Buthelezi is boycotting the elections, indeed is trying to hold the entire democratic process to ransom with the threat of 'civil war', is his difficulty with the notion of becoming an opposition politician.

As to the reason why the ANC is shedding some of its vote, it appears to be due to the decision taken collectively by the ANC and the government to introduce a double ballot system for the national and provincial parliaments. Some voters now seem disposed to hedging their bets and splitting their votes on polling day.

If the results of the Sunday Times' national poll hold firm then four NP ministers would accompany a vice-president F W de Klerk in the cabinet of the coalition government of national unity that will rule South Africa for the first five years after the election.

While most of the country, as the polls now conclusively show, would like nothing more than to get on with the business of holding free and fair elections, the refusal of Chief Buthelezi to heed the popular will has led to continuing tension between Inkatha and ANC supporters in the Zulu townships. The declaration of a state of emergency last Thursday in Natal/KwaZulu has diminished the number of violent flashpoints, according to the police, but has had little impact on the death rate, which yesterday climbed above 60 for the last five days.

Hopes for peace were bolstered yesterday by news of the imminent arrival in South Africa of the former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Britain's former foreign secretary Lord Carrington, on a mediation mission.

A senior ANC official, who did not wish to identified, said talks between the ANC and Inkatha would take place over the next few days to prepare the ground for the mediators' arrival.

'My understanding is that Kissinger and Carrington . . . will arrive this week,' said the ANC official, adding that the mediators' recommendations would not be binding. 'They will be here to mediate, not to arbitrate,' he said.

Speaking in the United States, Mr Kissinger said he was honoured to be asked to mediate. 'I am waiting for more precise terms of reference and the high-level meeting between the parties which is taking place on Friday,' he said.

Today Inkatha is due to hold a march in the northern Natal town of Empangeni. It is expected to provide a stiff test of the ability and resolve of the army, deployed in numbers in the province following imposition of the state of emergency, to contain the killings.

(Photograph omitted)