The right-wing Conservative Party gained ground Wednesday against the ruling National Party in a parliamentary by-election, indicating that the number of whites worried about apartheid reform continues to swell.
The election in Randburg, a suburb northwest of Johannesburg, was seen by both parties as an important test of white support for President Frederik W. de Klerk's reform initiatives.
As expected, the National Party candidate, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, easily won the election, 10,882 votes to 1,969. Nevertheless, the pro-apartheid Conservative vote in this traditionally liberal district was sharply higher than its 755 total in last year's election.
Although that was considerably short of the 4,000 votes that some Conservatives had predicted, party leaders said it nevertheless reflects growing dissatisfaction with the rapid pace of reform.
De Klerk needs to maintain white support for his initiatives as he opens formal negotiations with black and white leaders to draw up a new constitution. The president has promised to present any new constitution to white voters for approval, and the Conservatives hope to muster enough votes to defeat such a move.
The Conservatives, who maintain that De Klerk is selling out whites to eventual black majority rule, currently hold 40 seats in the 166-seat white chamber of Parliament. The National Party controls 93 seats and the anti-apartheid Democratic Party 33.
Both Conservatives and Nationalists had gone all-out in the week before the Randburg election, with both De Klerk and Conservative Party leader Andries Treurnicht addressing town meetings.
The Randburg constituency had been held by Wynand Malan of the liberal Democratic Party, who narrowly defeated the National Party candidate last year. Malan recently resigned and said he would vote for the National Party candidate.
The Conservatives never expected to win the election in a district that one party official described as "leftist." But party leaders hoped that a strong showing would prove that their support is growing, even in liberal areas.
Leonie Steele, the Conservative candidate, campaigned on the theme of swart gevaar , or "black danger." A typical Conservative poster read: "FW's New South Africa--Squatters, Economic Collapse, Bloodbath."
"The (African National Congress) already is starting to take over with their terrorism in the black townships," said Daan Combrink, a retired oil refinery production manager and Conservative campaign worker. "It won't be long before it starts in white towns."
Van Schalkwyk, the National Party candidate, relied on De Klerk's coattails, urging voters from his party as well as the Democratic Party to vote for him to show their support for reform.