A red and green wagon drawn by 14 oxen pulled out of Cape Town on Saturday, opening celebrations marking the epic journey by Afrikaners fleeing British rule 150 years ago.

The wagon began its 1,800-mile, four-month journey north to the capital Pretoria - a recreation of the original Great Trek - amid an emotional outpouring of religion and patriotism at a ceremony to lauch the commemorative trek.But the prayers, songs and speeches masked deep divisions among South Africa's dominant Dutch-descended Afrikaners, which threaten to mar celebrations of a key event in their history.

Supporters of the extreme-right Conservative Party are boycotting the government-sponsored trek and plan to stage a rival version starting in October.

Thousands of Afrikaners, opposed to British rule, trekked out of the Cape Colony in the 1830s to start a new life in uncharted and inhospitable country to the north.

Political analysts say the 150th anniversary of the trek could turn into a tug-of-war for the hearts and minds of the Afrikaners, bitterly divided over the future of apartheid.

The Conservative Party, which wants to roll back President P.W. Botha's cautious apartheid reforms, is rapidly gaining support among white voters.

"Today the Afrikaner is divided more seriously than ever before. Our culture is literally being divided in half," the administrator of Cape Province Gene Louw told the ceremony.

"We need leaders with the same trekker spirit and courage to lead South Africa forward."

Hundreds of whites, including many in 19th century costume, packed Cape Town's Civic Center for the launch ceremony.

After a few hitches, the brightly painted ox-wagon finally began its journey which will take it eastwards to Port Elizabeth and then north to Pretoria where it is due to arrive by December 16, the 150th anniversary of the Afrikaner victory over the Zulus at the battle of Blood River.