NEW ALLEGIANCES. Election exposes myth about white South Africa

``Perhaps we have seen the end of the Anglo-Boer War.'' The quip by an Afrikaans-newspaper columnist highlights a little noticed casualty of last week's election: the image of white South Africa as divided between dominant, Afrikaans-speaking right wingers and a crusading minority of liberal English speakers.

This, like all stereotypes, was never wholly true. But the election returns could consign it to the historical dustheap. Initial analysis suggests that the National Party (NP) - in which apartheid and Afrikaner-white nationalism have intermingled for decades - rode to reelection with strong English-speaking support.

A key question yet to be answered is what the NP will choose to do about this. Will it try to maintain its status as an Afrikaner-nationalist party by slowing the pace of race-policy reform? Or, will it consolidate a new base among center-right whites, Afrikaner and English, seemingly united in the hope of giving up some white exclusivity without forfeiting too much white power or privilege?

It is clear that for now the ruling party has ceased to embody the Boers (Dutch descendants) and blue-collar Afrikaners who view racial mixing - much less full racial equality - as national suicide. Their allegiance, it would seem, has shifted to the extreme-right Conservative Party. The CP has become the official white-parliamentary opposition, by prying tens of thousands of Afrikaners away from the NP.

Still, the NP not only held its huge white-legislative majority, but also won seven extra seats. It vowed to give blacks some say in national politics, but stand tough on political violence, and prevent black rule.

One of the main reasons its platform worked is that it drew many English speakers away from the former parliamentary opposition - the frankly anti-apartheid Progressive Federal Party. Another reason is that decades of NP rule have helped elevate Afrikaners economically. Many have become university-educated businessmen, or academics. Others have joined the country's huge civil service. Most, it seems, find little allure in the Conservative Party's promise to lead Afrikanerdom forward into the past.

As early as 1983, when NP leader Pieter Botha held a referendum on bringing mixed-race Coloreds and ethnic Asians into separate parliamentary chambers, many English speakers backed him. The Progressive Federal Party - which opposed this as a mere modernization of apartheid - saw that shift as an anomoly. It felt that the referendum proposal was so artfully worded that it fooled English liberals into thinking it was more reformist than it was.

Yet the NP's campaign, says liberal Afrikaner academic Hermann Giliomee, ``correctly calculated that at least a third of English-speaking voters are up for grabs through skillfully playing on their joint fears of black uprising or a right-wing takeover.''

Many Afrikaners now argue that the ruling party must consolidate the changing allegiances. Taking up a cry that Mr. Giliomee has been making for some years, they say the NP must write off the far right to the Conservative Party. The NP, says one member of the party's more liberal fringe, ``must move ahead with really significant reforms, in such a way that the CP's cries will be made academic.''

Yet other Afrikaners note that the far right will snipe at each move for ``reform.'' Fears of ``losing Afrikanerdom'' have at least until now discouraged some in the NP from heeding calls by Afrikaner liberals to overhaul the NP's political identity.

This report was written in conformity with South Africa's press restrictions.

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