I ask you to the polls on Nov. 30 to tell the world that we will hold this fort, come what may.

John Vorster in his home district of Nigel, Nov. 26, 1977

Sheer will power is what South Africa's national elections on Wednesday are all about.

The ruling National Party is asking the 4 million whites here - the 18 million blacks cannot vote - for the largest mandate ever in its 29 years of power to show the country's resolve to resist pressure from the "outside world." They are expected to win the mandate.

"Your vote above all, must be a symbol of unity, of irrevocable [that] . . . not now, not tomorrow, not next week, not ever, will we accept . . . what an immoral world is dictating to us, a political dispensation which will cause bloodshed and our destruction," Foreign Minister R. F. (Pik) Botha said in a middle-class suburb of Johannesburg.

The "political dispensation" Botha referred to is black majority rule, and no matter how much "the world powers sugar the pill," Botha added, "i's still a plate of poison to us."

Voting for the National Party "is the only way to keep the blacks out of power," said one young Afrikaner. "It is not because of color, but because of what they'll do to us if they get in. It'll be just like all the other African countries, they'll kick us out and nationalized everything."

The emotional issues at stake in this campaign are reflected by the fact that it has been a violent one with sporadic threats to candidates and attacks on meetings.

Unlike American politicians, the South African candidates are not roaming the countryside making a hose of "campaign promises."

For the National Party candidates, there is only one promise to make: to "put South Africa first," as their campaign posters say and not to bow to foreign "meddling" aimed at leiminating the government's policy of apartheid, or separate racial development.

It is almost a cliche here that the National Party candidates are running against Jimmy Carter, Andy Young and the United Nations.

For those who opposed the National Party, "the real issues are inside South Africa, not abroad," as the English-language newspaper, the Rand Daily Mail, put it.

"The real issue is what to do about the blacks," and one newspaper editor. On this issue, "the election is both relevant and irrelevant because the blacks are not voting and it's relevant majority, it will tell the blacks that no compromise is possible,"

For this reason, the liberal opposition, the Progressive Federal Party, is aiming at reducing this majority as much as possible.

"The question is whether there will be any brake on National Party power," the Mail editorialized.

The National Party has made it clear that a vote for them is also a vote for their proposed constitutional changes, which are meant to give limited political power to the country's 2.5 million "coloreds" (people of mixed race) and 750,000 Indians, but still within the framework of separate development.

Representatives of both population groups have rejected the proposals, and critics say the changes will give the National Party greater power, lead the country into a one-party state and give Vorster dictatorial powers. Progressive Federal Party candidates have even gone as far to say this may be the last election for whites in South Africa. Vorster and his Cabinet ministers deny that the constitutional changes will bring a dictatorship.

The unchecked powers of the security police, the detentions and bannings of black leaders and their white allies sympathized and the police treatment of black leader Steve Biko, who died in jail, are not major issues in the campaign. Only the opposition candidates bring up these matters, hoping to make them issues and voicing fears that even tougher security legislation will be passed next year.

The government candidates do not feel compelled to promise that such things will not occur again, and their supporters regard these measures as necessary evils to stamp out "terrorism."

In an effort to win as many white votes as possible in this election, the National Party has sought to deemphasize its Afrikaner character and to broaden its appeal to non-Afrikaners. When the party did this during the 1966 and 1974 elections it won significantly more English-speaking support each time.

A dramatic example of this effort to reach out is the fact that there is a Jewish National Party candidate running for a parliamentary seat for the first time. Until the 1950s, Jews were prohibited from joining the National Party. The party's courting of the English-speaking public is another indication of this "detribalization" effort.

The broadening effort was sabotage in mid-campaign by the publication of remarks allegedly made by Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger about both English speakers and Jews.

According to the Johannesburg star, Kruger allegedly said in a conversation with Zulu chief Gatsha Buthetezi in September that Jews "are sending money to Israel and then they run away from other places and the whole kaput." Kruger reportedly said that "the English speaker will have to become an Afrikaner. Then, when psychologically he becomes an Afrikaner, then he may be able to join my country."

The publication of the remarks caused a furor and next to "outside meddling" became the most volatile issue in the campaign.

The government accused the Star of pre-election "divisive tactics" and sent an explanatory telegram to Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan "disassociating" himself and the government from "negative remarks" about Jews printed in South African newspapers. Vorsters felt compelled to go on television for a man to be an Afrikaans speaker or . . . an Afrikaner, to be a good South African."