South Africa hits back at terrorists

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SOUTH AFRICA, new-born as a non-racist state, emerged from the shadow of right-wing terrorism yesterday, but celebrations were dampened by the flawed organisation of the country's first all-race elections.

The Inkatha Freedom Party last night issued a veiled threat to pull out of the poll unless its complaints about the failures of the election system were answered.

Earlier, the police had arrested 31 people, including members of a secretive neo-Nazi organisation, suspected of carrying out the bombings which have killed 21 people in the past three days. The arrests were announced hours after a car bomb exploded at Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg, injuring 18 people.

The South African Police Commissioner, General Johan van der Merwe, said those arrested - many of whom belong to the Ystergarde (Iron Guard) unit of Eugene Terreblanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) - included the presumed 'brains' behind the bombings. The suspects include two police officers. Captured bomb- making material was displayed to the press.

The announcement added to widespread euphoria as South Africans - black, white, coloured and Asian - queued in their tens of thousands from early morning to vote together for the first time. Queues up to three miles long were reported in the Orange Free Street and Cape Town.

Nelson Mandela, the ANC leader and almost certainly the next South African president, was among the first to vote, at a high school in Inanda, north of Durban. He said: 'It is a day of dreams . . . We are starting a new era of hope, of reconciliation and of nation-building.'

However, euphoria was gradually overtaken in some areas by frustration and anger as a complex and hurriedly cobbled-together electoral system showed signs of buckling under the strain of administrative blunders and the sheer number of would-be voters. Election officials suggested one reason for the problems could be that the black population of the country had been vastly undercounted by the old regime; others hinted at sabotage.

Some polling stations failed to open; others had no ballot papers or, crucially, no supplies of the add- on stickers printed to honour Inkatha's belated decision to enter the election last week. Election officials insisted that 80 per cent of the polling was proceeding smoothly. In large areas of the country, that appeared to be the case.

Even where voting began well, problems piled up during the day as officials ran short of ballot papers, ballot boxes, Inkatha stickers and the invisible ink to mark electors' hands to stop them voting twice.

Emergency measures were introduced to ease the strain, including an extra public holiday today - the final scheduled day of voting - and extensions to the opening hours of polling stations. The South African Defence Force was deployed to ferry extra voting materials by land and air and even to help in printing several million extra ballot papers - with Inkatha's name included.

The leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, said the shortage of Inkatha stickers meant the election could not possibly be free and fair in his KwaZulu-Natal power base. The Independent Electoral Commission offered, rather desperately, to break its rules and respect ballot papers that had an Inkatha vote written in. But Chief Buthelezi said that was unacceptable since many of his rural supporters were illiterate.

An Inkatha statement last night said: 'At the moment drastic steps are needed to salvage the legitimacy of this election.' Asked if he would withdraw his party in mid-election, Chief Buthelezi said he intended to put that question to his central committee. The chief called once again for voting to be prolonged for at least one extra day tomorrow.

Justice Johan Kriegler, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, last night said he would recommend an extension of the vote 'if toward noon tomorrow it is apparent that a substantial number of people will not be able to exercise their democratic right'.

Unless the voting is extended, counting will begin tomorrow morning and the results should be known by the afternoon.