President F.W. de Klerk issued a final plea to white voters Monday to abandon apartheid, amid predictions that right-wing forces opposed to Tuesday's referendum were gaining support.
De Klerk said the outcome of the whites-only referendum on ending apartheid would decide the nation's fate.If reform is rejected, "there is no doubt where that must lead us - to a dead end of division and destruction," he said in a message published Monday in The Star newspaper of Johannesburg.
De Klerk has said he would resign if the government loses the vote. A government defeat would plunge South Africa into political chaos, with right-wing forces trying to reimpose apartheid and black groups resisting.
Political analysts said the government's lead has slipped in recent days. The Citizen newspaper Monday called the votes outcome "unpredictable." Other newspapers forecast a close win for the government.
The moderate Sunday Times quoted unidentified leaders of de Klerk's National Party as saying support has been slipping. They attributed the decline to increased political violence, high crime and the troubled economy.
Government lawmakers and supporters distributed leaflets at train stations Monday, urging whites to vote for reform. Newspapers were filled with dozens of ads by both sides.
In a final government rally, Foreign Affairs Minister Pik Botha and Democratic Party leader Zach de Beer urged voters to defeat the pro-apartheid right-wing.
"Those who remember what the swastika meant in Europe . . . know it means the same thing in South Africa now," de Beer said in reference to neo-Nazi, right-wing groups.
Rejecting reform would halt foreign investment, setting off a chain reaction of economic decline, unemployment and increased crime, Botha told more than 800 people at City Hall.
One blow for the government has been a recent upsurge of violence, which analysts say could frighten whites into voting against reform. Right-wing whites depict a vote against reform as a vote for law and order.
They would like to see de Klerk's reforms - which have included repeal of the basic laws that had institutionalized apartheid - abolished and security forces granted sweeping powers to suppress unrest.
Factional fighting in black townships continued Monday. Police said 13 people were killed overnight, raising the weekend total to more than 50 dead. The independent South African Press Association said at least 280 blacks had been killed since de Klerk announced the referendum three weeks ago.
The country's 3.3 million white voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether or not to continue de Klerk's moves to share power with the voteless 30million-member black majority. The result is not expected to be announced until Wednesday.
Andries Treurnicht, leader of the pro-apartheid Conservative Party, which leads the right-wing alliance opposing de Klerk, says whites should vote against reform to force a general election.
"Don't waste your last chance. There is no going back from African National Congress (the main black group) rule," Treurnicht said in a message published by The Star.