THE ruling National Party appears to be edging ahead of the African National Congress in winning the support of the country's 3 million people of mixed-race, known here as ``colored people.'' ``The percentage of colored people who believe that National Party policies are better than those of the ANC is too high,'' says a senior ANC official.
An independent survey conducted late last year showed that 24 percent of so-called colored people supported the National Party, while only 8 percent backed the ANC.
The 44 percent of mixed-race people who have not firmly aligned themselves with a political party was as revealing as the lead enjoyed by the ruling party. It reflects the most frequent attitude encountered among mixed-race people: Wait-and-see whether the ANC's commitment to nonracialism, justice, and democracy is real.
Mixed-race people, who are culturally closer to whites than to blacks, live mainly in and around Cape Town and the rural interior of the Cape Province. Cape Town's 1.8-million or so mixed-race people outnumber the 750,000 whites and 700,000 blacks combined.
Mixed-race people suffered under apartheid. The government took away their right to vote in 1956. And they bore the brunt of apartheid removals under the Group Areas Act in the 1950s and 1960s.
As a result of the legacy of apartheid, most mixed-race people rejected subsequent government efforts to address past injustices and identified increasingly with the black cause, particularly the ANC. It is only since President Frederik de Klerk legalized political opposition 15 months ago and began scrapping apartheid laws that mixed-race people have begun showing an interest in the National Party.
Many mixed-race people prefer Mr. De Klerk's option to an ANC allied with the South African Communist Party and unable reflect its commitment to nonracialism in its leadership. Recent remarks by Dr. Allan Boesak, former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and a leading apartheid foe bear this out. Dr. Boesak warned that the ANC would not win over mixed-race people with communist and military-style rhetoric.
The ANC acknowledges growing concern about its inability to win greater mixed-race support. ``If recent survey results [on mixed-race opinions] are correct,'' says a senior ANC official ``it is a warning to us to be very careful about the principle of one person, one vote. It must be modified and tempered in terms of our history to prevent one national group dominating the government.''
In a landmark event Thursday, 35 mixed-race Labour Party legislators defected to the National Party which opened ranks to all races nine months ago.
Labour works within the segregated Parliament in which the white House of Assembly interacts with two junior houses for mixed-race people and Indians respectively. Blacks are not represented. The mixed-race house has been dominated by the Labour Party of the Rev. Allan Hendrickse since it began seven years ago
Mr. Hendrickse's party has used limited veto powers to resist apartheid laws and oppose amendments that have merely sought to reform racial laws. Now that apartheid is on the way out, the party's reason for existence is being questioned.
Although mixed-race legislators were elected on voter turnouts of about 20 percent, some analysts believe they could enjoy greater support when they join De Klerk's National Party.
Last month, Hendrickse said he would not support legislation repealing racial land laws because, he says, provisions of the bill still allow for backdoor discrimination. Labour's threat to block its passage has created a dilemma for De Klerk who is eager to fulfill his promises that apartheid will be eliminated by the end of June.
Ten days ago he welcomed 12 Labour Party legislators into the National Party, a move that dovetails with the government's strategy of building an alliance with what it calls moderate parties as a potential rival to the ANC. By Sunday, 36 mixed-race legislators in the 85-seat House of Representatives said they would join the National Party. They need only 10 more defectors to command an outright majority over the Labourites.
National Party officials are confident they have won enough support to ensure that Hendrickse is not able to block repeal of apartheid laws due to go to a vote today.
Hendrickse, who has emerged as one of the most effective opponents of apartheid within the system, claims that National Party officials have now decided to dump him.
``Only now do I realize to what extent the National Party used me,'' he said. ``I feel bitter and deeply hurt that those who swore allegiance to me have now betrayed me.''