S. Africans endorse Mbeki

Mandela's choice of successor, ANC sweeping to victory

June 03, 1999|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- This country's second democratic election went off smoothly yesterday, with President Nelson Mandela's hand-picked successor, Thabo Mbeki, assured of victory when the results are announced as early as today.

With less emotion than in the first ballot for black majority rule five years ago, millions of South Africans put an X beside the party of their choice, and Mandela's ruling African National Congress headed for another overwhelming majority.

"What we have seen from President Mandela is that no one can reform a country in five years," said Smile Mastromhals, an estate agent, after he cast his vote in the cosmopolitan Johannesburg suburb of Bramley.

"It needs more time."

As across the rest of the country, an autumn sun shone on voters here as they crunched their way over the dried, fallen sycamore leaves into Bramley School.

"They are still excited and happy to be voting," commented Sipho Jeffrey, unemployed five years ago but now working as a driver.

He declined to say for whom he had voted:

"My vote is my secret."

The turnout yesterday was lower than in 1994, when the euphoria of liberation from the system of apartheid propelled 79 percent of voters to the polls.

This year an estimated 63 percent of the 22.7 million eligible voters turned out.

"Maybe it's getting more normal," said Philemon Ndlazi, a salesman in a hardware store, after voting here.

"Last time people were fighting. But this time there's no violence, no fighting. It's calm."

With 3.8 million votes counted, the African National Congress had won 51 percent, the New National Party 14.8 percent, the Democratic Party 16.7 percent, and the Inkatha Freedom Party 7.8 percent.

An early augury of ANC fortune came with the first declared result -- from Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

The ballot there was 73 percent ANC and 14 percent for the New National Party, successor to the "old" National Party that introduced apartheid in 1948.

`Tolerant atmosphere'

Sir David Steele, head of a British Commonwealth observer group, noted the "tolerant atmosphere" of yesterday's elections contrasted with the "tense situation" five years ago.

"On the day, the processes, as a whole, have been such as to allow a free expression of will by the electors," he said.

Isolated logistical problems, such as late delivery of ballot papers and equipment breakdown, were reported from a few of the 14,650 polling stations, but major fear of violence did not materialize.

"We prepared ourselves to go to war if necessary in order to protect this process," said Sydney Mufamadi, minister of safety and security, who deployed 100,000 security forces at the polling stations.

"The fact we are now getting this peaceful climate in which the elections are now taking place is a reward for that level of preparedness."

One of the few uncertainties of the election was whether the New National Party or the Democratic Party, outspoken protector of white interests, would become the official opposition.

Under the parliamentary system, the official opposition is the nongovernment party with the most seats in Parliament.

For the past five years, that role has been played by the NP, but polls during the campaign showed the DP advancing rapidly enough to make a challenge.

Both parties urged voters to deprive the ANC of the two-thirds majority that would give it almost total command in Parliament.

In parallel provincial elections, the ANC was trying to gain control of the only two of South Africa's nine provinces not already in its camp -- the Western Cape, held by the NP, and KwaZulu-Natal, held by the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party.

With 15 percent of the votes counted in the Western Cape, the NNP had 46 percent, the ANC 29 percent and the DP 17 percent.

In KwaZulu-Natal, with the same percentage of votes in, the Inkatha Freedom Party had 44 percent, the ANC 32 percent, the DP 11 percent and the NNP 4 percent.

In an effort to reassure whites, fearful of his emphasis on social transformation rather than racial reconciliation, Mbeki published a message in yesterday's issue of the Citizen, a conservative daily newspaper.

He stressed the country's continuing need of white expertise in solving the problems of unemployment, poverty and racial disparities.

The despair of blacks, he said, had been turned into hope by the past five years, and their determination to destroy a society that largely ignored them had been transformed into a burning desire to join hands "with all other South Africans" to rebuild the country.

"Yet there are still people in our country, who insist on communicating negative messages which suggest you, our white compatriots, are `an endangered species,' " he wrote.

"I call on all of you to reject the message of fear and despair. I count on you to continue making your contribution to the reconstruction of a common motherland, which belongs as much to me as it does to you."

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