ANC exceeds '94 win in S. Africa

Landslide election victory will give party two-thirds majority in Parliament

June 04, 1999|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The African National Congress, under its new leader, Thabo Mbeki, won a bigger victory in elections this week than five years ago and was headed for a commanding two-thirds majority in Parliament.

"The people have spoken," Mbeki said of the country's second democratic ballot. "We have now arrived at a moment when we go back to work."

Mbeki's five-year term is expected to be devoted to accelerated delivery of basic services -- water, electricity, homes, jobs and better schools -- to those officially called "the previously disadvantaged."

In an implicit ordering of his priorities, the "poorest of the poor" were the first constituency mentioned in his victory speech, followed by women and "our people -- both black and white."

The two-thirds majority -- feared by the ANC's opponents as inviting political arrogance since it would allow the party to amend the constitution at will -- was emerging from a landslide that widened the gap of the 1994 election between the ANC and its nearest opposition party.

With 85 percent of the voting districts counted, the ANC had won 66 percent of the vote, the Democratic Party 10 percent, the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party 8 percent and the New National Party 7 percent.

In 1994, the ANC won 62.6 percent. The largest opposition party was the "old" National Party, with 20 percent. But this time its support was cut by more than half.

The mantle of official opposition passed from the New National Party, successor to the old National Party, which introduced apartheid in 1948, to the Democratic Party.

The DP campaigned vigorously in defense of minority -- particularly white -- interests. The latest tally showed the DP had increased the meager 1.7 percent of the vote it won in 1994 by about six times.

The ANC maintained its grip on the country's provinces, holding seven and making gains in the two it hadn't controlled. In the commercial heartland of Gauteng province, centered on Johannesburg and Pretoria, it increased its majority from 58 percent five years ago to 67 percent, with two-thirds of the votes counted.

The Democratic Party ousted the New National Party from major opposition in the province, increasing its share of the vote, with two-thirds of voting stations reporting, from 5 percent to 18 percent. The NNP's vote share dropped from 24 percent in 1994 to 4 percent.

The New National Party, weighed down by its apartheid-era baggage, was all but reduced from a national to a provincial party, with the Western Cape as its single stronghold.

But even there it appeared to be losing strength, opening the possibility of a coalition to be formed either by itself or the ANC. This prospect left the DP in the role of provincial king-maker, to decide which party to throw its third-place support behind.

"I think the NP's demise is deserved and overdue," said Tony Leon, the combative DP leader.

New National Party leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk, acknowledged that the DP attracted large numbers of white voters, but said: "Opposition in an era such as ours cannot be effective if it relies only on an adversarial approach."

In the only other hotly contested province, KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC sufficiently dented the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party's grip on power to make another coalition likely.

A pre-election peace pact between the ANC and Inkatha quelled violence in the volatile province and prepared the ground for cooperation between the country's two major black parties. There was even talk of Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, home affairs minister in President Nelson Mandela's government of national unity, becoming Mbeki's deputy president.

For Mbeki, the result brought to a gratifying end his faithful service in the shadow of Mandela, who will retire after his successor is inaugurated June 16. But it also showed that the electorate was still largely split on racial lines, with the ANC support base being mainly black while the DP and NNP relied largely on white support.

Mbeki quickly made it clear that while he would stick to the basic thrust of Mandela's policies -- most of which he helped forge as deputy president -- he would also set his own priorities.

To allay fears of the two-thirds majority, he stressed that he would proceed with "humility" and use the overwhelming power "to defend and entrench the democratic system and the human rights contained in our constitution and our law."

His thrust throughout the campaign was to promise accelerated delivery on political promises and to introduce more efficient and effective government. His Cabinet is expected to be selected from the ANC's hardest workers.

"The poorest of the poor have said they trust the ANC to help them out of their condition of misery," he said. "The women of our country have mandated the ANC to continue with this struggle for their upliftment and their emancipation.

"Our people, both black and white, have mandated us to remain firm in the pursuit of a non-racial South Africa, and the important goal of national reconciliation."

He sent a reassuring message to local business and international investors, concerned about the overwhelming power of a party aligned with the South African Communist Party and the trade union movement.

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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