JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- President F. W. de Klerk marked the fourth anniversary of the launch of the new South Africa with a blistering attack against the African National Congress -- the very group he had allowed to come out of hiding.
Legalizing the ANC and freeing its leader, Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison were the hallmarks of Mr. de Klerk's speech on Feb. 2, 1990. Now the ANC is the clear favorite to win the country's first multiracial election in April, thus handing Mr. de Klerk's presidency to Mr. Mandela.
But last night in a raucous political convention atmosphere, Mr. de Klerk made it clear that he isn't giving up without a fight, as he formally launched the campaign he has actually been conducting for several weeks.
Speaking to about 3,000 people attending a congress of his National Party, Mr. de Klerk emphasized that it was his actions that ended apartheid and began the negotiations that led to a new constitution.
"The ANC would cast us back into the Dark Ages," he said. "It is a party secretly controlled by Communists, militants and extremists. They are quiet now but they will shout loudly if the ANC wins control."
He said both the National Party and the ANC promise economic prosperity.
"But there is a difference. We will keep our promises, just as we kept the promise to wring the neck of apartheid and free all the people of South Africa. The ANC will not keep its promises. It cannot. It does not know how, and it has never done so."
While never mentioning the National Party's past as the creator of apartheid, he sought to saddle the ANC with the tactics it used to fight that system of rigid racial segregation and oppression.
"Ask yourself which of the two main parties, the National Party or the ANC, has dirty hands when it comes to political violence, intimidation, strikes, boycotts, disruption of education, unrest and political intolerance.
"Which party -- the National Party or the ANC -- burns down houses and disrupts meetings? Which party maintains self-defense units which murder and destroy?
"The ANC stands guilty before the country and [the] world on all these counts. Their deeds cry out to heaven and make nonsense of the pretentious and hypocritical statements on democracy and peace by their leaders."
In his two weeks of active campaigning, Mr. de Klerk has made a concerted effort to reach black voters, though he has been thwarted by heckling and disruptions at some stops in black areas.
Last night, he referred to the problems of intimidation.
'No no-go areas'
"To our supporters in the townships, I want to make this promise: I will stand by you and continue to visit you throughout this campaign. Our opponents must know one thing: There are no no-go areas for the National Party during this election. Our voice, the voice of reason, will be heard throughout South Africa," he said.
Though his audience last night was mainly white, there was a large contingent of non-whites, mainly from the so-called colored community.
Classified as mixed-race, most of the coloreds share the language and much of the culture of the white Afrikaners, descendants of the original Dutch and French white settlers.
It was the Afrikaners who fought the British for their independence in the Boer War at the turn of the century, and who finally took over the country in the 1948 election when the National Party came to power.
Apartheid, which focused on separating the country into its various racial and tribal groups while keeping political and economic power in white hands, soon followed.
Though polls indicate that the National Party will take the majority of colored votes, Afrikaners continue to dominate the party.
Its list of candidates for the new National Assembly, headed by Mr. de Klerk, is overwhelmingly white, male and Afrikaner.
Right-wing groups seeking a separate homeland for the Afrikaners claim to represent the majority of Afrikaners in South Africa. They have refused to agree to participate in the April election. Mr. de Klerk appealed for their votes last night.
"The road of boycotts and stayaways is a dead-end street -- a road that will drag you first into resistance and then violence; a road that will destroy your life and your future; a road that is in conflict with your deepest Christian convictions. It is a road that will inexorably lead to renewed international isolation, to unwinnable wars and to economic catastrophe," he said.
"If your party and its leaders are afraid to face up to the ANC, don't capitulate with them. Rather, come and help me. Get off the boycott train and help me to win."
Negotiations to get those white right-wing groups as well as black groups seeking greater local powers, mainly Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, to participate in the election were to continue this week.
There were reports yesterday that the ANC had agreed to go along with one of the boycotters' main demands, that there be two ballots in the April election, one for the national government and one for the regional, instead of the single ballot for both that the ANC prefers.
But, in return, the ANC is seeking a guarantee that these groups will participate in the election, a commitment that seems unlikely without other compromises.
Mr. Mandela marked the fourth anniversary of Mr. de Klerk's speech by laying a wreath at the gates of the prison near Cape Town that he walked out of four years ago.
Next week, on the actual anniversary of his release, he plans a trip to Robben Island, the prison in the middle of Cape Town's harbor where he spent most of his 27 years behind bars.