About 20,000 people filled the stands of a football stadium in Athlone, a middle-income Coloured area, to hear Mr Mandela. Several thousand were still trying to get in when the speeches began. The tragedy occurred when a tunnel under the main stand was opened and hundreds of people rushed to get on to the pitch. In the Western Cape, where Coloured voters appear to be responding to the Nationalists' claim to greater competence, the ANC's chances are bound to have suffered.
The party's struggle to win Coloured support was demonstrated by the composition of the crowd, which was more than four-fifths black. While ANC followers poured in from Langa, Nyanga and Khayelitsha townships, the people of Athlone and other Coloured areas stayed away. Mr Mandela's measured attempts to counter Nationalist propaganda - assuring the more prosperous Coloureds that their homes and jobs were safe, and that the ANC stood for freedom of religion and better education - went over the heads of an audience whose work, when they can find any, is too poorly paid to attract Coloureds.
The message was made even more unpalatable towards the end, when Mr Mandela strayed from his standard campaign speech to appeal for an end to strikes and boycotts. A few hisses were heard as the ANC leader said his future government needed industrial peace to launch its development programme, prevent the emigration of capital and skilled people, and attract foreign investors. He was cheered only when he added: 'If the workers can't get satisfaction, then of course the workers must go on strike, even though it is the ANC in power.' But by then, many were leaving.
The ANC campaign in the Western Cape has been hamstrung by suspicion among Coloureds, just over half of the 2.2 million voters, that they would be worse off when blacks achieved equality. The ANC has accused the Nationalists of exploiting anti-black feeling among Coloureds, most notoriously in a comic strip which claims a future ANC government might adopt the slogan: 'Kill a Coloured . . . kill a farmer.' Mr Mandela had intervened to impose Allan Boesak, a Coloured former Dutch Reformed pastor defrocked for adultery, as the ANC's candidate for premiership of the region.
The two took Communion side by side in Mr Boesak's former church yesterday. The service celebrated the union of the African and Coloured branches of the Dutch Reformed faith, set up under apartheid by the church of white Afrikaners. The 'mother church' has repudiated racism, though it cannot bring itself to merge.
The description of the Coloureds as 'brown Afrikaners' seemed apt for the conservative churchgoers of Belhar, the men in dark suits and white ties and the women in ample floral dresses. They are the kind of voters the ANC needs to win to prevent the Western Cape being the only region it loses next week, and their welcome for Mr Mandela was respectful but wary. He was told by one preacher: 'When you promise justice, human dignity and freedom, the church will support you. If you disregard this, the church will criticise you.'
Had Mr Mandela won any votes, I asked a woman in a wide-brimmed hat. 'I don't know,' she said. 'I wasn't going to support him before today, but now I will - maybe.'
Roots of apartheid, page 15