South Africa extends voting an extra day

April 29, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG, SOTH AFRICA — JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Distribution problems, ballot shortages, long lines of voters and allegations of sabotage in South Africa's first democratic elections forced officials yesterday to extend voting for an extra day today in the Zulu heartland and five other rural regions.

The decision, approved by President Frederik W. de Klerk and other political leaders, came amid reports of widespread problems, though no serious violence, at hundreds of the nearly 10,000 polling stations.

Millions of South Africans turned out to cast ballots yesterday, which was to be the final day of national voting. But election officials said extra ballots did not arrive at numerous polling sites in six regions, especially in remote villages, until just hours before they were due to close.

"We have strong evidence of substantial inadequacy in the voting" in those regions, said Johann Kriegler, head of the official Independent Electoral Commission.

"Because of [our] difficulties in provisioning these areas, the voters there have not had a fair and free opportunity to express their views,"Mr. Kriegler said.

The extension of voting will mean a delay in the vote count, which is scheduled to begin tomorrow and continue until results are available, probably by Sunday.

At President de Klerk's insistence, the votes cast today will be counted separately, in case of later questions about the polling.

The extension was welcomed by most political parties, including the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

It reflected the determination of political leaders and the electoral commission to remove doubts about whether the polling was free and fair.

"We must be able to say that all South Africans who wish to vote, and were prepared to take the trouble to vote, were given the opportunity," said Mr. de Klerk, who issued the formal decree extending voting.

"If we don't achieve that, then the election result will, right from the beginning, be in total jeopardy. And it would be the beginning of conflict and strife."

"We've got to make this election work," he said. "If we don't get a 100percent perfect election, let us strive to achieve 95 percent and let us live with it."

The election commission, which is responsible for ensuring the fairness of the process, said it was satisfied that people who wanted to vote were able to. Many polls, which experienced shortages of ballots or greater-than-expected numbers of voters, stayed open well past the 7 p.m. closing time.

But the voting had been seriously disrupted by shortages of voting materials in remote regions of six former black homelands: in the eastern region of KwaZulu, in Natal province; in Transkei and Ciskei in the southeast, and in the region encompassing Lebowa, Gazankulu and Venda in the northern Transvaal.

Election officials declined to say how many of the 21.7 million potential voters, about 18 million of whom are black, had voted by last night. About 2 million potential voters live in the areas where polls will reopen today.

Eugene TerreBlanche, a neo-Nazi leader, said bombers would keep striking in South Africa till extremist whites get their own separatist homeland. Obviously disappointed by the progress of the vote, he predicted: "Hell and terror will go on where it left off a day or two ago."

He said he sympathized with bombers but denied ordering any such attacks.

The extra day won't protect election results from challenges, officials acknowledged. Every political party had complained about irregularities.

Some complaints concerned late-arriving ballots, while others pertained to everything from allegations of biased conduct by electoral officers to missing ballot boxes.

Nelson Mandela, the head of the African National Congress, who is expected to win the election, complained of "massive sabotage" at polling stations. His aides said Mr. Mandela had spoken out of frustration.

Jay Naidoo, an ANC official, said the party had lodged numerous complaints with the election commission. Among other things, the ANC contends that in some areas of KwaZulu, police and other officials from Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's outgoing homeland administration were intimidating voters.

Mr. Naidoo also claimed that Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha supportershad created "pirate polling stations."

Ziba Jiyane, Inkatha's national political director, denied the charge and countered that the ANC was "panicking because Inkatha is about to deliver a resounding victory."

Inkatha had complaints, too, most centering on hundreds of polling stations where votes were cast on ballots that did not carry the party's name.

Inkatha agreed to join the elections just a week ago.

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