Amid a large outbreak of racial unrest and a nationwide strike by blacks, South African whites dealt the ruling National Party a sharp blow at the polls Wednesday, loosening its grip on Parliament and leaving it the smallest majority since it came to power by a narrow margin 41 years ago.
The government lost nearly a fourth of its parliamentary seats to the far-right Conservative Party and to a surprisingly strong liberal Democratic Party, in an election that had given whites a choice of voting for abolishing apartheid, strengthening apartheid or taking the government's middle road.
"It's tremendous growth, indeed. A very exciting showing," declared Wynand Malan, co-leader of the anti-apartheid Democratic Party, who defeated the government's seasoned diplomat, Glenn Babb, for a seat in the Johannesburg suburb of Randburg.
Conservatives Pick Up 17
With results in from 162 of 166 white districts, the National Party's 123-seat--or 75%--majority in Parliament had been slashed by at least 30 seats. The Conservative Party picked up 17 of those, giving it a total of 39, and the Democratic Party took 13 from the government, giving it 33, the most ever for an anti-apartheid party.
In nearly every district, National Party candidates fared worse than in the whites' last election in 1987. Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha, Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee and Defense Minister Magnus Malan all were reelected by sharply reduced margins.
However, acting President Frederik W. de Klerk said he was not disappointed in the election results.
'We will move forward with confidence and strength," he told a news conference early today in Pretoria. "We are looking forward to the next five years, to take our mandate and bring it to full fruition without looking over either shoulder, left or right."
The elections, in which blacks had no vote, were considered the most important since the National Party came to power on a platform of strict racial segregation in 1948, and the results were a crucial test of white support for De Klerk's plans for apartheid reform.
Anti-election violence flared across the country during Wednesday's voting, which followed a five-week campaign of civil disobedience in which more than 2,000 blacks have been arrested and dozens injured in clashes with police.
Polling places were heavily guarded, and police using birdshot, rubber bullets and tear gas dispersed anti-election protesters in at least two dozen black, mixed-race and Indian townships, where crowds threw stones and chunks of concrete at police vehicles and lighted the night sky with barricades of burning tires. One person was killed, four were injured and more than 50 were arrested in the unrest, police said.
In a mixed-race township near Cape Town, mobs tore down street lights to barricade roads as police patrolled in armored cars, firing shotguns at rioters.
The Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), a loose coalition of the country's leading anti-apartheid groups, said more than 3 million blacks boycotted jobs and schools Wednesday in "the biggest-ever mass action" against the government. An independent labor monitoring group put the figure at 2 million.
The strike disrupted South Africa's economy, closing dozens of factories, crippling transport and putting white managers to work as checkout clerks and waiters, jobs usually reserved for blacks.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the United States did not consider South Africa's parliamentary elections free and fair because "only a part of the South African community will have the right to voice its views."
Anglican Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, reflecting the views of many in the voteless black majority, said he was not paying much attention to the election results.
"I would hope that white South Africans would be aware that the bulk of the people in this country are not voting, and they should join us in getting rid of the system," said Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate and a leader in the MDM defiance campaign that has highlighted apartheid laws and police curbs on free expression of political dissent.
The voting Wednesday was for the 166-seat white chamber of Parliament and less powerful houses of mixed-race Coloreds and Indians. Early returns showed a fairly strong turnout of about 66% of the 3.2 million white voters but only about 10% of the 1.8 million mixed-race voters and nearly 700,000 Indian voters in elections that were widely boycotted.
Of the nation's 35 million people, 26 million are black, 5 million are white, 3 million are of mixed race and nearly 1 million are of Indian descent.
The Nationalist majority still will give De Klerk, the party leader who came to power upon the resignation of President Pieter W. Botha last month, a new five-year term, although defections from the National Party could force the government to call a new election earlier.
De Klerk, who is considered more flexible but no less conservative than his predecessor, had appealed for a strong mandate to begin a racial reform program that would eventually give blacks limited participation in government and slowly dismantle some apartheid laws. But De Klerk, like the party he leads, supports segregated schools and residential neighborhoods and is opposed to a one-person, one-vote system.
In the six-week election campaign, the National Party took the political middle road between the Conservatives and Democrats.
The Conservative Party, which emerged as the government's primary opposition after elections two years ago, favors stronger segregation laws and the creation of black and white states within South Africa's borders. It opposes any political rights for blacks.
The Democrats, on the other hand, want to abolish all apartheid legislation and draw up a new constitution that would give all South Africans--black as well as white--a vote in the country's future, probably under a federal system similar to the United States.