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South Africa: Question of Confidence

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Reeling from his National Party’s third straight parliamentary by-election loss to the right-wing Conservatives, who favor a return to apartheid, President F.W. de Klerk has decided to risk his future and the country’s on a referendum. Before the end of March, he says, South Africa’s white voters will be asked whether they back the government’s efforts to negotiate a new constitution enfranchising their black fellow citizens.

“It’s a question of honor,” De Klerk said last week. The African National Congress and others on their side of the bargaining table “must know that we have the power and support to implement what we agree to.” Despite their recent successes, one poll shows the Conservatives taking only 30% of white votes nationwide. The President expects to win the referendum, but he vows that if he loses he will resign and force new elections.

The A.N.C. denounced the plan as a “hallmark of racism” and a step that gives the white minority (4.5 million, vs. 28 million blacks) a veto over the future.

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