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South Africa Right of Way

2 minute read

Only two seats were at stake in last week’s all-white ballot for the South African Parliament, but the outcome sent shock waves through the nation. The big winner in the Transvaal provincial by-election was the ultra-right Conservative Party, which strengthened its grip on both rural seats by attacking every concession State President P.W. Botha has made in recent years to South Africa’s blacks.

Though the outcome scarcely threatened Botha’s control of Parliament, where his National Party holds 133 seats, vs. 22 for the Conservatives, it signaled a gathering white backlash. The extremists want to force all blacks to become citizens of tribal homelands, rather than of South Africa, and would reinstate the infamous pass laws that until two years ago determined where blacks could live and work. They also want to abolish the four-year-old tricameral system that permits Asians and people of mixed race to sit in Parliament, and seek to restore the ban on interracial marriage, repealed in 1985.

As the by-elections approached, Botha went out of his way to appeal to right-wing voters. Last month he banned 17 antiapartheid groups, including the United Democratic Front, an antigovernment umbrella group with some 2 million members. Just two days before the election, Cape Town police arrested Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, two dozen other churchmen and more than 100 parishioners as they marched from St. George’s Cathedral to Parliament to protest the ban. Yet when the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, an extreme-right group that advocates an all-white South Africa, marched in Pretoria two weeks ago clad in brown shirts and carrying Nazi-like banners, police simply stood by.

The government further tightened the noose around opponents by introducing a bill last week that would prevent antiapartheid organizations from receiving foreign funds. Pretoria also informed the South African Council of Churches that it had committed “a criminal offense” by refusing to submit its monthly journal for review.

Botha called the Transvaal vote a “temporary disappointment,” blaming it on “foreign interference.” He has reason to worry. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 1989, and if last week’s results were any indication, it is no longer inconceivable that victory would go to a right- wing opposition that makes Botha’s Nationalists look moderate.

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