South African Elections: De Klerk rouses his followers by lashing the ANC

HENDRIK VERWOERD would have had a heart attack. Apartheid's ideologue, the National Party prime minister whose regime jailed Nelson Mandela, the man who never entertained the suspicion that he might be wrong, would have been flabbergasted to discover how briskly history had destroyed his dreams of racial segregation.

F W de Klerk, whose father was a cabinet minister under Verwoerd, was addressing an election campaign crowd of 3,000 people on the outer fringes of Soweto, in no man's land between Soweto and Johannesburg. The walls were papered with posters of Mr de Klerk photographed from an angle that clearly pleased Sir Tim Bell and the rest of his election strategists but made him look more more like Humpty Dumpty than usual.

Before Mr de Klerk's arrival, a band played on stage. The adults danced to the boisterous African rhythms, but the children, of whom there were far too many for National Party comfort, were entertained by three clowns with appropriately multi-coloured faces.

'F W de Klerk is on his way]' screamed the announcer. 'You must all give him a very rousing welcome.' The crowd were on their feet, waving little National Party flags, following the lead of the black master of ceremonies with frenzied cries, appropriated from the ANC liturgy, of 'Viva de Klerk] Viva]'

Then a blonde, blue-eyed former university rag queen, the deputy minister of justice, Sheila Camerer, stood up and read a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. This was good politics. Perhaps 25 per cent of the audience were black, but most belonged to what the apartheid definition called the 'Coloured' group. A lesson the ANC has also learnt, the mixed-race sector of the community is unhappy if a rally does not start with a prayer. A hush descended and then it was pandemonium again as Mr de Klerk stepped to the microphone.

'Isn't it wonderful to be a Nat in South Africa?' he asked. 'Yes]' bawled the faithful, their enthusiasm fed by a gift they had received upon arrival of a little plastic bag - 'a Natpack', someone suggested - containing fruit juice, a chocolate bar, a de Klerk badge and an NP flag. This, Mr de Klerk explained, was not the old National Party. It was the new National Party, that had turned its back on the bitterness of the past and felt free now to blame the ANC for the miseries inflicted on the non-white majority. 'It is the ANC,' he declared, 'who have made the lives of millions of blacks and browns so miserable.' It seemed an extraordinary thing for a National Party leader to claim, but Mr de Klerk was in combative, over-the-top mood and the crowd, 10 per cent of whom were cheerfully drunk, loved it.

The meeting concluded with two national anthems: 'Die Stem', the anthem of white South Africa, full of references to 'creaking wagons', and then 'Nkosi sikeleli Afrika', the ANC anthem. Mr de Klerk, reading the Zulu words from a piece of paper, mumbled gamely along to the stirring, liberation strains. Verwoerd would have had a second heart attack.

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