JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- In a South African version of George Wallace shouting "Segregation forever," the Conservative Party here declared yesterday that the "white nation" will live on no matter what the outcome of a crucial referendum next month.
The Conservatives said they would battle President Frederik W. de Klerk March 17 for the soul of white South Africa in the referendum, which has been called to determine whether the country's 5 million whites want to continue political reforms.
"Should we lose, this is not the end of the political war in South Africa," said the Conservative leader, Andries Treurnicht. "There is still a white nation which cannot be wished away. This isn't the end of the white nation."
Most analysts predict a close vote but say Mr. de Klerk probably will win. Mr. de Klerk has said his government will resign if he loses.
Wim Booyse, an expert on the right wing, said he thinks the Conservatives "will be annihilated" because "even people who are conservative-minded are facing reality. They know we can't go back" to the days of sanctions and isolation.
Mr. de Klerk called the referendum after the Conservatives won a special election last week in the town of Potchefstroom, which had been viewed as an important test of white sentiment in the country.
That election added weight to Conservative Party claims that Mr. de Klerk's National Party no longer represented whites.
The Conservative Party vehemently opposes the negotiations with black political organizations, many of which had been banned until Mr. de Klerk legalized them in 1990.
There had been speculation that the Conservatives might boycott the referendum because what they really want is a general election, which they would stand a better chance of winning because of the way parliamentary districts have been drawn.
"The difficulty in this country is that we want a new government," Mr. Treurnicht said at a news conference in Cape Town which was broadcast nationally. "And to replace the government we need a general election."
Mr. Treurnicht said the Conservative Party stands for the creation of a white state and individual states for each black ethnic group, all of which could form a "commonwealth of states" inside the present borders of South Africa.
That is precisely the plan that was drawn up in 1948 by the National Party under the name "apartheid" and which the National Party government has now decided to reject as unworkable.