Cape Town — South Africa's ruling National Party is crowing over its latest election win, which represents a major breakthrough in a predominantly English-speaking constituency.
Prime Minister Pieter Botha said Sept. 4 that he was so "impressed" by the result that he could not sleep for the rest of the night after it had been announced in the early hours of the morning.
The win means that the National Party's already overwhelming representation in the all-white South African Parliament increases to 137, out of a total of 165 seats. The major opposition party, the Progressive Federal Party, has only 19 seats.
Several black leaders said they were bitterly disappointed by the result because it appeared to indicate that the whites were "going backwards" politically and because it endorsed the government's policy of apartheid -- enforced social, economic, and political racial segregation.
There are three things specifically that affected the outcome of the by-election (special election), which was a straight fight between the National Party and the Progressive Federal Party in the parliamentary constituency of Simonstown, which lies on the southern tip of the country, an area where towering mountains plunge spectacularly into the sea around a huge bay.
The people who live in the town of Simonstown itself -- South Africa's main naval base -- and neighboring villages and in the outlying suburbs of the city of Cape Town, although they are predominantly English-speaking, are also mainly middle class and notoriously conservative.
In recent years, there has also been an influx into the area of many whites from countries further north in Africa, people who have left Zambia and Zimbabwe , for example, because they could not accept black rule.
Many of these proved more racist even than many rightwing white South Africans.
Then there is the National Party candidate himself, a rangy maverick English-speaking South African called John Wiley, who was educated at an exclusive private school in Cape Town and also at Oxford University in England.
He has represented the area in Parliament for 14 years -- but always previously as a member of parties that were, at least in name, in opposition to the government.
But his own highly personal and frequently controversial interpretation of those parties' policies -- he represented first the now defunct United Party, then his own South African Party -- was often so extremely hawkish that they seemed to the right even of the ruling National Party.
A few months ago, when it became clear tat there was no future for his South African Party, he finally took the plunge and joined the National Party, where his critics said he had really belonged all along.
He immediately resigned his seat to fight it again under his new colors.
No political fool, he chose his time well.
Prime Minister Botha has been gathering increasing support from English-speaking conservatives with his talk of political "reforms" that are designed to placate black aspirations without, however, discomforting the whites , or obliging them to part with any real power or authority.
At the same time he has been alternately comforting them with his heavy emphasis on security and scaring them with stories about a "total onslaught" against South Africa headed by communists.
Mr. Wiley was ideally placed to cash in on this in Simonstown, where many people are employed at the naval base and which has a fairly large Navy population.
And it suited Mr. Botha very well to demonstrate to supporters in his own party how effective his more "liberal" policies were in winning support outside the limits of Afrikanerdom and to broaden his party's base to include as many English-speaking supporters as possible in his plan for a "total strategy" for the future.