Magazine article The Nation

Nut 'N' But

Magazine article The Nation

Nut 'N' But

Article excerpt

Say what you like about the U.S. election campaign, at least George Bush and Michael Dukakis did not sink to using talking squirrels to harvest the black vote. P.W. Botha did. Two rodents named

Nut and But were the stars of a $2 million media blitz to persuade South African blacks to take part in the October 26 election of segregated town councils. Animals were chosen in the belief that blacks would relate to them better than to human figures, which inescapably display racial characteristics. Lions, elephants, mice and dogs were passed over in favor of the cuddly, industrious squirrels. "Our studies showed this animal was kosher," an official of the South African Bureau of Information explained.

The vote was a referendum -with the regime setting the ground rules -on whether black South Africans would accept Botha's reform of the apartheid system. It was also the centerpiece of a counterinsurgency strategy that seeks to crush black activism while co-opting a sizable bloc of black votes by pouring money into the townships. The operation is called WHAM-for Winning Hearts and Minds. In the last municipal elections, in 1983, only 21 percent of eligible blacks turned out. The government blamed poor voter education and intimidation by black radicals. Nut and But were the response to the first problem. For the second, the government used a variety of tactics: banning antiapartheid organizations, making it a crime to advocate a boycott and staging the ballot over a two-week "prior vote" period to undermine boycott efforts. …

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