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South African Election Guide: National Party may capture city with a difference

CAPE TOWN has always prided itself on having the first motorways in Africa. Within minutes one can soar from the star-shaped castle, built by Dutch settlers near where they landed in Table Bay in 1652, up the slopes of Devil's Peak to Groote Schuur hospital, site of the world's first heart transplant.

Landmarks such as these help to justify the feeling of the 'Mother City' that it is somehow more cultured and tolerant than the rest of South Africa, and that its bid for the 2004 Olympics deserves to succeed. But there is a hole in the city's heart. Halfway between the castle and the hospital is the empty expanse of District Six, where Coloureds (people of mixed race) were removed from the quarter that had always been theirs; nobody has dared build on it since. Travel down Settlers Way, now more tactfully known as the N2, and one comes to Athlone, one of the first dumping-grounds for Coloureds when Cape Town's racial mix was forcibly unscrambled.

Athlone and areas like it are a symbol of centuries of slights and broken promises by the whites to their darker cousins. Next week, for the first time in just over 40 years, Coloureds will vote on the same roll as whites, and might be expected to seek redress for their humiliations. But further down the N2, past the established black townships of Langa, Nyanga and Guguletu, are mile after mile of squatters' shanties worthy of anywhere in the Third World. The presence of these migrants, with their tribal rites and their livestock grazing beside the motorway, is the key to the Western Cape's politics.

The end of 'Coloured preference', which attempted to keep blacks out of the region, has heightened the community's fears that it will lose the scraps of privilege it enjoyed under apartheid. Every bloody clash in Natal or the East Rand frightens mixed-race voters, who make up just over half the 2.2 million total in the Western Cape, into the Nationalist camp. For the African National Congress this is the only region of South Africa where the party will have to come from behind to win.

The result is the crudest election fight in the country. The open collusion between the two parties in other regions is absent here. While the National Party exploits Coloured racism towards blacks, the ANC warns that the Western Cape will suffer if it is alone in backing F W de Klerk's party. The Nationalists have issued a racist comic, now banned, designed to play on Coloureds' fears; the ANC is circulating a leaflet claiming that Hernus Kriel, the hardline Law and Order Minister, who is the Nationalist candidate for premiership of the region, will create a 'Boer state' in the Western Cape if he wins. Neither Mr Kriel nor Allan Boesak, the ANC candidate for regional premier, is regarded locally as an asset to his party.

The ANC can expect to capture most of the black vote, but that is less than a quarter of the total, and the Pan-Africanist Congress hopes the traditional radicalism of Cape Town's black townships will give it up to 10 per cent support there. The traditional party of white middle- class liberals, the Democrats, hopes to pick up the votes of Coloureds who can stomach neither the Nationalists nor the ANC.

If voter intentions do not change, however, the assembly that meets in Cape Town on 6 May to acclaim Mr Mandela as president may be doing so in a region controlled by the National Party. The city's claims to be different from the rest of South Africa would be proved true with a vengeance.