Three events converged on the eve of next week’s whites-only election to the benefit of the National Party: NP newspaper advertisements, the raid into Zambia and the release of the findings of the Munnik Commission.
The African National Congress was a common element in the three events, outlining its importance as an actor on the South African political stage. Whether by accident or design, the confluence of separate developments boosted NP projections of itself as the tough guardian of the country’s future and the PFP as the effete party of the rich which is soft on terrorism and communism.
The first was the full-page newspaper advertisement propaganda campaign by the NP equating the PFP with the ANC by innuendo and juxtaposition of words. The full page advertisement was headed: ”Over my dead body would I vote for the ANC. So why vote PEP?”
The PFP commitment to release Nelson Mandela and unban the ANC — as stipulated in a booklet outlining its constitution plan for a new South Africa — was contrasted with selected quotations by ANC leaders designed to present the ANC as uncomprisingly dedicated to violence. Thus the ANC’s Freedom Radio was quoted as saying: ”Let us take our weapons, both rudimentary and sophisticated, our necklaces, our grenades, our machine guns, our AK. 47s and everything we can get — Let us fight ”
The PFP tried to fight back by putting up a few hundred well-designed placards, proclaiming: ”Apartheid promotes communism.” But it seemed unlikely to counter-balance the full weight of the favourable conjunction of events for the NP.
Shortly after the Nat advertisements first appeared in newspapers last week came news of last weekend’s raid into Zambia by a South African army unit. Five ANC ”terrorists” were killed in two separate shoot-outs between SA soldiers and guerrillas and a ”terrorist transit facility” destroyed, the SADF said. The timing of the raid was opportune for the NP, as it underlined its projected image as a party determined to safeguard the security of all against terrorism.
The raid came after election speeches by Foreign Minister Pik Botha, warning that the ANC had plans to infiltrate South Africa and disrupt the May 6 poll. The disclosure was associated with the usual Botha melodrama: neighbouring states were counselled not to allow their territories to be used for ANC expeditions into South Africa and diplomats were summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs to be briefed on the ANC, urged to use their leverage to stop the ANC and admonished over their alleged silence over the ANC-inspired or, at the least, ANC-approved necklace executions.
Kragdadige oratory on security, as Botha knows, is a sure way of winning applause from nervous whites and of winning votes, whether on the platteland or in the cities. In the present pre-election atmosphere it serves a double purpose; it is at once a cudgel to beat the PFP with and a stick with which to fend off accusations from the ultra-right that the NP itself has been corrupted of its will to resist by liberalism.
The SADF’s version of what happened was, of course, challenged by Zambia and the ANC. Four people and not five were killed, in the raid, Zambian Information Minister, Milimo Punabantu, said, adding that they were innocent Zambian nationals” and not South African guerrillas. Two of the dead men were said to be watchmen, armed only with sticks and whistles.
The remaining victims, two brothers, died when South African commandos attacked the ”transit facility” with guns and grenades. The fifth victim of the raid was wounded and not killed, Zambian authorities said. They identified her as a 21-year-old woman who was shot in the face, right arm and leg during the attack on the ”transit facility” or, as it is known in Zambia, Mango House.
The ANC repeated earlier denials that it planned to infiltrate guerrillas into South Africa to disrupt the election (described by Winnie Mandela as a white tribal circus.) But, amid the claims and counter-claims, one image tends-to stick in the minds of white voters who are not inclined to believe either a black government or the ANC: that of the NP government holding the line firmly against terrorists.
The third factor was the Munnik inquiry into the role of Chris Ball, MD of Barclays Bank, in the advertisement calling for the unbanning of the ANC in January. Munnik found that the probabilities were ”overwhelming” that Ball knew when he authorised a R100 000 overdraft to businessman Yusuf Surtee it would be used to finance an advertisement calling for the unbanning of the ANC.
The release of Munnik’s conclusions in a 1 121-page report came barely a week before polling day. Rightly, or wrongly, it will almost certainly reinforce white populist suspicions that rich whites — or, more accurately, those perceived to lean towards the PFP and even the UDF — are soft on the ANC. From a propaganda point of view it was a good week for the NP.