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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK

World: Africa

Final push for votes in South Africa

The official election campaign closes at midnight on Monday

As South Africa's politicians make their final attempts to woo undecided voters, BBC News Online's Justin Pearce reports from Cape Town on the keenly-contested battle for the Western Cape.

South African Elections
Although most of South Africa's pre-election chatter goes no further than the size of the ANC's margin of victory, there is one corner of the country where no-one is daring to make any predictions about who will be in control after 2 June.

Cape Town's media has been full of phrases like "neck and neck" and "too close to call".

[ image: South Africa's big guns have been visiting the Cape]
South Africa's big guns have been visiting the Cape
The latest opinion polls put the ANC and the New National Party (NNP) within a few percentage points of each other in the race to control the provincial government of the Western Cape.

In the 1994 elections, it was the one province where the National Party - the former party of apartheid - managed to retain control.

This time round, the stakes are high.

For the NNP, the Western Cape represents the party's last toehold on power - while for the ANC-aligned anti-apartheid activists who cut their political teeth in the Western Cape, the 1994 election result was a betrayal which they would dearly love to reverse.

NNP on the defensive

The ANC's role as challenger makes the election campaign in the Western Cape unique in the country.

The NNP defends its patch with slogans like "Keep the Western Cape" - while the ANC paints itself as the party committed to making things better, by plastering the streets of Cape Town with "Working together for change".

[ image: UDM leader Bantu Holomisa dances at a Cape Town rally]
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa dances at a Cape Town rally
The NNP has invoked the same concerns around crime, unemployment and education which have been the staple fare of all the opposition parties around the country.

But as far as the Western Cape provincial government is concerned, the NNP is not an opposition party.

Simply put, South Africa's not-quite-federal constitution leaves broad policy decisions to central government, while the provinces provide the state services in education, health, housing and so on.

Jane Standley reports: "Thabo Mbeki can do little wrong in the eyes of ANC members"
So with the NNP having run the Western Cape for the last five years, and the ANC in charge of the country as a whole, both sides are able to claim credit for the successes, and blame the other party for the failures.

The region's biggest daily newspaper, the Cape Argus, hedged its bets by endorsing in its Friday editorial the idea of a coalition government.

Unique history

Eccentric the Western Cape may be - but no-one dares ignore a province which contains the country's seat of parliament and second-largest metropolis - Cape Town - and which is a key contributor to the country's food, clothing and tourist industries.

Its unusual politics reflect its unique history. European colonialism arrived here first, and left its mark more deeply than on any other part of the country.

[ image: Three were injured in unrest on Sunday at a UDM rally in Cape Town]
Three were injured in unrest on Sunday at a UDM rally in Cape Town
The people who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Dutch in the 17th Century were enslaved, losing their language and way of life.

But it is their descendents - their blood mixed with that of white settlers and of other slaves brought from the Dutch colonies in south-east Asia - who are the coloured people who today make up the majority of the Western Cape's citizens.

"Coloured" may sound offensive to British or American ears, but it is a term which is used with pride by people who were excluded from the privileges enjoyed by whites under apartheid - but whose culture owes very little to black Africa.

In the 1994 election, the National Party did not hesitate to play on the fears of coloured voters, persuading them that an ANC administration would leave them as second-class citizens in a country dominated by Africans.

This year, a tense contest has once again prompted accusations of dirty campaigning.

The NNP has come under fire from its opponents after the provincial government used taxpayers' money on a series of newspaper advertisements praising the government's achievements while in office.

The ANC was in turn forced to apologise after its supporters disrupted a speech by leaders of a smaller opposition party, the United Democratic Movement, at the University of the Western Cape.

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