MITCHELL'S PLAIN, South Africa -- President Frederik W. de Klerk, launching an unprecedented campaign to woo blacks to his party, was driven off a podium in this township yesterday by protesters who hurled gravel at him and yanked the plug on his sound system.
"We will not be silenced by these threats," Mr. de Klerk vowed to cheers before his speech was cut short by the hecklers. "We bring a message of hope, of prosperity, of a place in the sun for all South Africans."
The disruption, engineered by about 100 supporters of the African National Congress and the radical New Unity Movement, suggested that the road to democracy and freedom of speech in South Africa will be long and bumpy.
More than 1,000 de Klerk supporters had turned up for the National Party rally in this "colored" (mixed-race) township. Many coloreds support Mr. de Klerk, even though his National Party created this township on desolate, sandy flats by evicting thousands from their homes near Cape Town more than a decade ago.
Many in the audience wore National Party buttons and carried posters praising Mr. de Klerk. The president gave a short speech on the western edge of the township and was escorted by drum majorettes to the center of Mitchell's Plain, where a second speech was disrupted by the demonstrators.
The protesters shouted insults and pelted Mr. de Klerk and other National Party officials with small bits of gravel. No one was injured, but organizers, citing the security risk, canceled a planned luncheon with business leaders and escorted the president out of the township.
"These people [the ANC] who preach democracy and freedom of speech must realize that anybody who has a message -- whether it's the Communist Party, the ANC or the National Party -- must be able to speak and let the people decide who to support," said Gerald Morkel, a colored member of Parliament who joined the National Party last year.
A Western ambassador said the rally reflected "the birth pains of democracy." He noted that non-whites have been denied the vote for three centuries in South Africa, and that democracy in South Africa "is growing from a very small base."
"Having the vote doesn't matter," said Joan Beukes, 35, who was wearing a National Party button. "The things de Klerk has done for us, by removing apartheid, nobody else could do. And all the ANC can do is criticize."
The ANC, the largest black political organization in South Africa, had objected to Mr. de Klerk's rally, saying it was premature to campaign in non-white townships before blacks have the vote.
"He should stay away until everybody gets the vote," said one protester, Abdullah Sullaiman, 49, a colored businessman.