WHITE South Africans go to the polls on Wednesday in an atmosphere described by Anthony Sampson as "a religious war". Mr Sampson edited the influential South African magazine Drum in the 1950s, when he became friends with Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.
He explained to the Catholic Herald that both the Afrikaners and the black opposition claim authentic Christian traditions.
"The Afrikaners", he said, 'identify themselves as the chosen people, and are very much in the Old Testament tradition. For blacks, the picture of Jesus' closeness to ordinary people is very powerful. An intrinsic part of the battle will be which view of Christianity wins out".
The most important result of the election, he said, may be in showing the disunity among the Afrikaners. Denis Worrall, formerley South African Ambassador to England, is now one of many independents standing for parliament' against the government.
Such intra-Afrikaner friction, claimed Anthony Sampson, is evidence that sanctions were weakening the National Party's stranglehold on whites, because big businesses were now backing more liberal figures like Mr Worrall out of long-term economic interest.
Some of these independent "break-away" Afrikaners are campaigning on platforms which demand the unbanning of the ANC and the release of its leader, Nelson Mandela.
For its part, the ANC dismisses Wednesday's elections as irrelevant, and many expect that the May Day celebrations in the days immediately prior to the election may afford opportunities for ANC shows of strength, to remind the world of its presence and importance.