South African electorate defies fears, predictions Voters wait hours in line to cast ballots for local council officials

November 02, 1995|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Defying fears of anarchy or apathy, South Africans celebrated another level of democracy yesterday as long lines of voters snaked away from the polling stations in local elections.

At one station near the Kruger National Park, voters reportedly had to outmaneuver an elephant grazing on berries in a nearby tree. At several stations in the township of Soweto, voters faced the wrath of supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party, who claimed one of their candidates was not properly listed on the ballot.

In some parts of the country, they waited in a driving rain. In many others, including Johannesburg, a broiling sun shone down on the slow-moving lines. In many places, the list of registered voters or the ballots themselves arrived well after the 7 a.m. starting time.

But nothing seemed to stop the vast majority of South Africans who were denied the right to elect their local officials for more than 40 years under apartheid.

The scenes of lines of voters were reminiscent of the April 1994 vote that first brought democracy to this country and elected Nelson Mandela president.

Fears of voters not finding local issues interesting enough to get

them to the polls proved unfounded. By midday, many urban polling stations reported that more than half the registered voters had cast ballots.

Final figures on turnout, as well as any meaningful results, are not expected until today.

A large turnout is expected to help the African National Congress, Mr. Mandela's party, which received 62 percent of the vote 18 months ago.

In Katlehong, an oft-troubled black township east of Johannesburg, seven separate alphabetized lines of voters led to an elementary school, one of five polling stations in the community. Each line was several hundred yards long.

"I have been here since 7 this morning," said Johanna Jutata, 64, after finally voting after 11 a.m.

The retired domestic worker said she had basic reasons for voting: "My house is too small. Only two rooms. I live there with my son, his wife and their three children. My son is unemployed. We need more jobs."

But she said her life has improved since she last voted. She and her family live on her pension. It had been only about $70 a month, but after the new government equalized black and white pensions, it rose to about $120.

Even in the traditionally white areas -- which receive a disproportionately large number of local councillors under the interim constitution and where the traditionally white parties were hoping to do well -- the lines contained as many black as white voters, as domestic servants and other workers joined their employers at the polls.

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