South African Election Guide: Nationalists play job card to net the Cape: In the village of Arniston, in Western Cape, Raymond Whitaker finds mixed-race voters fear the ANC more than their white bosses

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The Independent Online
A SMALL group of men was sheltering in a shed by Arniston's slipway. They said little as they peered out to sea. At first the only sound was that of the slashing rain on the roof. But as the moment for the return of the fishing boats approached, the shed began to fill up with people as weathered-looking as the bakkies (pick-up trucks) they had arrived in.

By the time the last of the boats had been hauled up the slipway, the yard was echoing with noise: the whine of the winch, the clatter of plastic crates as the fish were sorted and slung on the weighing machine, and the shouts of the fishermen, clad in lurid green and yellow oilskins. Apart from a handful of white holidaymakers and boat-owners, everyone in the yard was Coloured - the local term for people of mixed race. Whatever their colour, all spoke Afrikaans, the language in which the fish they were unloading had been named. There was galjoen, kabeljou, geelbek, a few sharks, including a baby hammerhead, steenbras and poenskop, but it had been another bad day. It did not take long to crate up the catch and load it into the trucks.

Derek Taljaard sat in his bakkie out of the rain, passing money through the window to his fishermen. The boat-owner takes half of the catch; the rest is divided among the crew.

Joseph Lourens had earned 20 rand ( pounds 3.77) for the day. How did he plan to vote next week? 'Nationalist,' he said. 'I don't want to be under the blacks.' Patrick October echoed him: 'We know what we have now with the National Party. We don't know about the ANC.'

Mr Taljaard, from the nearby market town of Bredasdorp, has three boats. 'Ja, I get half the catch, but I have to pay for the diesel and all the repairs. When there is no fish in winter I have to look after these people.' Did he know the ANC was planning to buy out white owners like himself?

'Everybody is worried about the election - we don't know what will happen afterwards. If they take my boats away, what will I do?'

Arniston hardly appears on maps. The tiny Coloured fishing settlement took its name from a British vessel which foundered near by in the 19th century, but when whites began building holiday homes on this stretch of coast, a short distance from the southernmost tip of the African continent, the authorities decided the village should be called Waenhuiskrans.

The fishermen's cottages, with their whitewashed walls and thatched roofs, resemble Scottish crofts. The nearest holiday homes, only 100 yards away, have large picture windows to enjoy the sight. But the living conditions of the Coloureds resemble those of 19th- century crofters too - while the whites have electricity, paved roads and piped water, the cottages have no water or power. There are a few communal taps in the sandy lanes, and bucket toilets in the back yards. A telephone line was installed only this year.

On the other side of Arniston a high tower rises from the dunes, flanked by windowless blockhouses. This is a missile testing range built in the 1980s for Armscor, a state-owned company. Its activities regularly shut off large areas of sea to the fishermen, on one occasion for three weeks at a time.

Coloured fishermen have suffered for years under a notoriously corrupt and nepotistic licensing system. Until recently fishing quotas were allocated only to whites with connections in the National Party, while deep-sea trawling and wholesaling was controlled by a handful of big companies which used their political influence to keep smaller competitors out.

According to Johnny Issel, an ANC candidate and spokesman on fisheries, 'major intervention' is planned for communities such as Arniston which scrape a living from inshore line fishing. 'We want the rights to exploit sea resources restored to those who wet their hands, as opposed to those who stand on shore and collect the profits,' he said. Line fishermen will be allowed for the first time to break the deep-sea monopoly enjoyed by the big operators.

But Norman Mentz has yet to see much change. A member of the integrated district council now in creation, he sat for several years on Arniston's management committee. It was nominally responsible for the Coloured people of the area, while watching all the resources go to the whites. 'A fisherman is often lucky to earn 100 rand a month, but we still have to pay 35 rand a month ground rent on these cottages, which we built ourselves,' he said. The rent is the same for the tin shanties some families still occupy, out of sight of the holiday homes.

About 1,000 Coloured people and a few dozen whites live in the village. Mr Mentz wanted to fill in the gap between the two communities with a playground and a meeting- hall, but was turned down. 'They said it must remain as a green belt,' he complained. 'They haven't changed a bit.'

He thought he knew why the fishermen were prepared to vote for their feudal way of life to continue. 'At least they have work,' he said. 'The white boat-owners are all telling them to support the Nats. The test range also employs a few Coloureds, but none of the young people can find jobs. The ANC is going to win here.' This flies in the face of predictions that the Nationalists will get most of the Coloured vote, especially in the remoter areas of the Western Cape.

At the Arniston Hotel, meanwhile, a single pan-fried line fish with lemon dill mayonnaise cost 23.50 rand. It tasted delicious.

(Photograph and map omitted)