South African Elections: Ominous signs as Nats claim Western Cape

'WHERE'S that family?' called the beefy man in a National Party tracksuit and T-shirt.

A young Coloured (mixed-race) woman, the wife of a party employee, emerged with her child from a shadowy corner to be bear- hugged in front of the television lights by Hernus Kriel, South Africa's hardline Law and Order Minister. 'Look nice and happy now,' said the man in the tracksuit, moving National Party posters into shot.

It looks as if the new National Assembly, which meets in Cape Town on Friday, will elect Nelson Mandela president. Workmen were yesterday erecting stands in front of the City Hall, where he will speak from the same balcony on which he stood after his release from 27 years of imprisonment in February 1990.

It also looks as if President Mandela will make his first speech in the only province won by the Nationalists and Mr Kriel will emerge as the only white premier. Yesterday's embrace demonstrated why: the Coloured community, which makes up more than half the Western Cape population, appears to have sided with the whites against the ANC, which for most of them spells black domination.

Local ANC leaders were saying that it was too early to predict the outcome but Allan Boesak, the ANC's candidate for the regional premiership, implicitly conceded defeat last night.

Mr Kriel, the premier-in-waiting, named racial reconciliation as his first priority. Asked what it would mean for the Western Cape to be the only province controlled by the Nationalists, he said: 'We have always been in favour of political balance in this country. I think it will be a good thing.'

But he went on to predict that industries might relocate to the region, and that investment would be attracted because 'we should be able to reach stability in the political and criminal situation very soon'. Ominous words from a man who still controls the police and security apparatus, and who opposed President F W de Klerk's reforms until the last moment.

The ANC claimed the 'Kriel factor' was 'hidden away' during the campaign so that the National Party could capitalise on Mr de Klerk's popularity among Coloureds, but Mr Kriel denied this, saying he had made more than 100 appearances.

He was much less visible, however, than Mr Boesak, who waged a frantic campaign to close the gap for the ANC. Both grew up in the tiny Northern Cape town of Kakamas, and both were baptised by Mr Kriel's father, a minister in the Coloured branch of the Dutch Reformed Church.

But their common background simply appeared to intensify their rivalry, and the racial overtones of the campaign may hinder co-operation after the election. The interim constitution provides that at provincial and national levels, parties will be allotted cabinet seats according to their share of the vote.

Many Western Cape Nationalists would have preferred to see a more moderate figure as their premiership candidate, such as Dawie de Villiers, the former Springbok rugby captain and provincial party leader, or Kobus Meiring, the outgoing administrator of the Cape. 'But Hernus Kriel read the constitution earlier than anyone else, and realised how much power the regions would have,' said a political analyst. 'People breathed a sigh of relief when he announced that he was stepping down from national politics and running for the regional premiership, but he has outmanoeuvred them.'

The ANC has warned that frustrated white right-wingers seeking a 'Boer state' would opt for the Western Cape as the next best thing if the Nationalists won. Lampie Fick, Mr Kriel's deputy, was talking yesterday of making the region, which accounts for 13 per cent of South African GDP, 'the Switzerland of Africa', as economically independent as possible from the rest of the country.

'It's a free country,' Mr de Villiers told the Independent when asked about the possibility of a right-wing influx. 'Other provinces will be able to measure their ability to govern properly because the NP is in power. People will vote with their feet.'

The mystery was why the Nationalists had not enjoyed similar success in the other province with a Coloured majority, the Northern Cape. The ANC, which was well ahead in the country's most sparsely-populated region, said blacks and Coloureds had responded to the party's message that they suffered common oppression. The Western Cape, however, may face a period of tension between the two groups, and Mr Boesak appealed for calm last night, saying there was 'no question of betrayal' in the way Coloureds had voted.

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