South Africa's historic vote is done Complaints yield to state of satisfaction in South Africa

April 30, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Partisan rhetoric cooled down yesterday as South Africa ended four days of voting in its first nonracial election.

Though the air had been full of charges of electoral improprieties from almost every political party, an added day of voting in several rural sections of the country seemed to take care of most of the objections.

In the first two days of general voting, many of those areas received few ballots and were missing other equipment,

frustrating would-be voters.

Yesterday, with officials able to concentrate on these problem spots and with the country's air force flying in ballots, the trouble seemed to be cleared up. Reports indicated that the voting was going smoothly -- indeed, that in many places there were few customers at the open polls.

One of the areas getting an extra day was KwaZulu, the stronghold of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. Chief Buthelezi had threatened to renew his call for an election boycott when many KwaZulu polling places failed to open on the first two days.

The leaders of Inkatha's main rival, the African National Congress (ANC), countercharged that KwaZulu authorities were running "pirate" voting stations and that voters were improperly influenced at polls patrolled by KwaZulu police.

The ANC's Nelson Mandela, expected to become South Africa's new president with the results of this vote, charged that there had been "massive sabotage" of the election, claiming that ballots failed to arrive in numerous ANC strongholds.

The National Party of President F. W. de Klerk made its own claims of irregularities, as did a number of smaller parties.

But yesterday, ANC official Jay Naidoo called the election a "tremendous victory for the forces of democracy" and expressed confidence that it would be declared free and fair by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Mr. Naidoo did not back away from the sabotage claim but explained that the additional day of voting allowed those victimized by the ballot shortage to cast their votes.

Mr. de Klerk also expressed confidence in the fairness of the eventual results, saying that procedures announced by the IEC for dealing with disputed ballots should take care of any problems.

A KwaZulu official seemed pleased with the added day. "On the whole, I think we'll be able to finish," said KwaZulu government spokesman Thembinkosi Memela. "Things have gone much better."

Mr. Memela said residents of the region had been informed by radio broadcasts which polling stations were operating, after many failed to open over the previous three days.

The actual counting of the close to 20 million ballots -- by hand -- was to begin at 7 a.m. today (1 a.m. EDT), though it was impossible to be certain when substantial numbers will begin to emerge from the over 1,000 counting centers where the ballot boxes from 9,000 polling stations have been taken. But trends should start to become clear by late tonight or sometime tomorrow.

Though the ANC should win easily, the size of their victory -- and of the showing by the National Party -- are of intense interest.

Before any counting can start, the ballots in the boxes must be checked against records of the ballots handed out at the various stations. Some of that was done yesterday at polls which closed Thursday so that the actual counting could start at as early as possible. Challenged ballots will be set aside and counted separately.

The real question is how long it will take for the IEC to deal with all the protests and challenges, give out a final tally and make the declaration that the election was free and fair.

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