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Rightists Reject Participation in S. Africa Voting

March 06, 1994|BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRETORIA, South Africa — In the latest dip of this country's political roller coaster, militant leaders of the far right Saturday overwhelmingly rejected a last-ditch plan to participate in next month's elections and warned again of civil war if they are not granted an independent white homeland.

As a result, retired Gen. Constand Viljoen, the most moderate leader of a white separatists' coalition called the Afrikaner Volksfront, announced that he will honor the right-wing boycott of the country's first all-race elections.

Viljoen had unexpectedly registered a hastily formed political party, the Freedom Front, shortly before a Friday midnight deadline for the election expired. But he backed down Saturday afternoon in the face of fierce opposition by pro-apartheid Volksfront leaders during a stormy, closed-door session here.

A grim-faced Viljoen told reporters later that he will not submit a list of the party's candidates by Wednesday, as the law requires for the party to be listed on the final ballot.

"I will do nothing," Viljoen said. The Freedom Front's registration "will just lapse." He added, "This is the wish of the people."

Ferdi Hartzenberg, the fiery president of the pro-apartheid Conservative Party, first announced the decision to continue the election boycott to about 150 right-wingers who had gathered in a Dutch Reform Church hall here.

"If we took part in the election, we would lend it legitimacy," he said to cheers and applause. "We would just be endorsing the oppression of our people, and that would be unacceptable."

The Volksfront claims to represent the nation's 3 million Afrikaners, descendants of 17th-Century, mostly Dutch settlers. But polls have shown their support is far smaller and shrinking steadily as neo-Nazi and other openly racist zealots push the fractious organization further from the mainstream.

Still, the sharp repudiation of Viljoen's pro-election maneuver dashed a surge of hopes and headlines that right-wingers would drop their opposition to a democratic vote and a peaceful transition to black majority rule.

It also appeared to split the Freedom Alliance open, because the right-wingers' chief black ally, Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, registered for the election Friday. Buthelezi said, however, that his participation in the campaign is contingent on using international mediation to forge a solution to Inkatha's demand that the constitution be rewritten to provide far greater autonomy for Zulus in Natal province.

Nelson Mandela, head of the African National Congress and expected to be the first black president, said Saturday that he is prepared to accept mediation by the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity, the Commonwealth or another international body.

"These are the organizations that must be entrusted with the task of international mediation," he said. Polls show the ANC is likely to sweep the April 26-28 elections.

Mandela's chief rival, President Frederik W. de Klerk's National Party, stands to gain by the renewed right-wing boycott, because polls suggest many Afrikaners will seek a chance to vote against the ANC. But at least one of Viljoen's supporters, retired Gen. Tienie Groenewald, said Buthelezi may also benefit.

The daylong meeting of the Volksfront's so-called Boer Parliament, which defiant right-wingers created in January as an ostensible governing body for Afrikaners until they are granted a homeland, was also supposed to finally choose the boundaries of the territory the separatists hope to occupy.

The map was not released, but the hard-liners apparently won that debate as well. Despite the fact that whites are not in a majority in any part of the country, the Volksfront plan reportedly calls for annexing more than one-third of South Africa's territory for a self-ruled, whites-only state.

The proposed map includes the Transvaal, Orange Free State and a slice of Natal province. The land, which includes the administrative capital of Pretoria, corresponds to the Boer republics that were conquered and colonized by the British in 1902 after the second Boer War.

It is almost inconceivable that such a state could be created. Both Mandela and De Klerk have repeatedly said they would oppose the division of the post-apartheid nation into ethnic or racial territories.

Many of the Afrikaners who attended the Saturday session, however, warned that they would go to war rather than submit to an ANC-led government.

"We must fight them," said a 64-year-old, white-haired woman wearing pearls and a necklace emblazoned with the swastika-like symbol of the Afrikaner Resistance Front, the best-known of the pro-apartheid groups. "You sign your own death warrant if you come under them. They don't understand democracy the way we do."

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