Maps of change in South Africa

SUN JOURNAL

Atlas: A compilation of voting results captures the political, technological and economic trends of the post-apartheid era.

October 31, 1999|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Over a brunch of salmon roulade and pan-seared beef tenderloin in the marble-walled ballroom of a new five-star hotel here the other day, President Thabo Mbeki was presented with the ultimate evidence of this fledgling democracy's electoral sophistication.

It was a leather-bound Atlas of Results from the June 2 election, this country's second democratic national ballot in the post-apartheid era of black-majority rule.

The atlas, officially described as the first of its type in the world, is a kaleidoscope of national political sentiment, a colorful encyclopedia of voter fervor and party strength.

ANC's strength shown

Want to know how support for the ruling African National Congress is scattered across the nation? Just look at the swath of green that dominates the map of 14,650 voting districts, representing the overwhelming 66.36 percent of the vote former President Nelson Mandela's party won in its second outing.

At a glance, you can see how the New National Party, whose powerful forebears introduced apartheid in 1948 and won only 6.87 percent of the vote this year, is reduced to relying on two provinces -- the Western Cape and Northern Cape -- for most of its support.

Going into more detail, you can turn to a map of greater Johannesburg. There you will see, graphically rendered in overwhelming yellow, how the rich northern suburbs voted for the liberal Democratic Party. It ran as the champion of white interests, earning 9.55 percent of the national vote and replacing the New Nationalists as official opposition.

The black township of Alexandra is one of the few ANC-green patches to be seen in northern Johannesburg.

But look to the south of the city, home to the huge township of Soweto and most blacks, and the map is lawn-green, political pasture for Mbeki's party.

If you need to determine where any of the 16 parties contesting the summer elections faced their challenges, a "lead" or "lag" map will show you. You can pinpoint where the ANC had its greatest victories, where the Democratic Party suffered its worst setbacks or where the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party might have a chance of doing better next time than its 8.59 percent support in June.

Registration patterns

The atlas records the registration patterns for the 18,172,751 voters, and the local percentage turnout for this year's election compared with that in the 1994 national and 1995-1996 municipal elections.

In short, it is a wealth of information for the managers of future political campaigns, the student of politics or the marketing managers of major corporations. Buyers will be able to "zoom" into individual neighborhoods, even streets, to find out who voted how.

But the information doesn't come cheap. The atlas costs $1,650. It comes with an up-to-the-minute compact disc.

"I know our politicians are very excited about this map for obvious reasons," says Brigalia Bam, head of the Independent Electoral Commission, which produced the atlas as a commercial venture, hoping to find a market for it. "Even for planning purposes it will be a very useful atlas."

Beyond its diverse uses, the atlas is also a sign of the times, a symbol of the Mbeki administration's commitment to open government, a product of the technology used in organizing the impressively smooth election and an extension of this country's effort to mix public and private enterprise.

Never before in this country, with its long history of colonial rule and racial oppression, has so much political information been openly published.

"A very important element of government, of good government, is indeed the supply of information to the people," says Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as president after the June balloting. "If I was a marketing manager, I would buy 10 copies for the marketing division so I know what to sell to whom."

Home-Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, whose electoral strength lies in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, sounds a note of caution.

"This atlas could be very dangerous in the hands of people with a hidden agenda," he says.

Particularly on his mind was gerrymandering, the carving up of electoral districts to serve political purposes. He says he is thankful that the country has an independent commission on demarcation, which is redrawing electoral boundaries. But both political parties and society should remain "vigilant," he said.

The production of such a data-filled atlas was made possible by the technology used to bridge the gap between urban and rural areas during the election, "the only road we could take," Bam says.

In nine working days, 18 million voters were registered, and on Election Day 80 percent of them cast their ballots within an hour of arriving at the polling stations. The votes were counted without major problems.

"That can only be done with technology," Bam says. "Some of us spent a lot of time praying that nothing would go wrong. That was all we could do."

Private sponsorship

Even the gourmet brunch, during which the Atlas of Results was unveiled at the newly opened Pretoria Sheraton, reflected the trends here: It was privately sponsored.

As Bam points out, the Independent Electoral Commission, which frequently complained of lack of funds as the election neared, could not afford to put on such a lavish spread.

Responding to wider government appeals for help, businesses have contributed funding and expertise to problem areas in deprived communities such as fighting crime and improving schools.

The Atlas of Results shows the role those and other communities throughout the country played in shaping the new South Africa in June.

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