Voters queue all night to welcome democracy's dawn

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The Independent Online
THEY QUEUED in the pre-dawn chill in Hotazel, wrapped in anoraks and blankets but cheerful and excited. Hotazel, on the edge of the Kalahari, lives up to its name only in summer, they say. By the time the first 20 people were allowed to vote at 7am, the line went round the block.

'I'm part of history,' said Daniel Mokgosi, who had stayed up all night to be first in the queue. His expression was torn between solemn patience and deep excitement. It was one I saw many times yesterday. He emerged from the polling booth with a huge smile. 'I don't mind if I never vote again but this moment will be in the history books.'

Hotazel is a manganese mine at the end of a railway line in the middle of a flat ocean of thorn scrub. It is almost at the centre of southern Africa. Everyone is connected with the mine. There are no black managers and the first thing you notice is that all the electoral officers are white and all the voters in the queue are black. That does not trouble them. 'We shall win by a technical KO,' said one man. 'Because we are prepared to stand for hours in the queue and they are not.'

The polling booth is the recreation hall. 'Until recently it was whites only,' said Mr Mokgosi, 'and even after it was opened up you felt brainstormed if you went in there. They would make jokes about you. We did not feel comfortable here. It will take them a very long time to change in their hearts. The election will change things but on the mine it is up to the managers, it is not a government mine so we will have to keep negotiating with the owners.' And who did he think the miners of Hotazel would vote for? Mr Mokgosi burst out laughing. 'What do you think?' he said indicating the line of black workers. 'There is only one party here.'

At the supermarket - the only shop in town - Manie Steyn, a young farmer, was taking his workers to the polling booths in the back of his pick-up. When I asked if he thought they would vote African National Congress, he shrugged and said: 'That's their right. I'm a right-winger but I am carrying out my responsibility.' He added that no farmer he knew would try to stop his workers from voting, but not all would give them a lift.

'I guess I'm a right-winger because of history. It's the way you are brought up here,' said Mr Steyn. 'Hell, I don't know what will happen after the election but we'll manage somehow. The sun won't stop coming up just because we have a black president.'

(Photograph omitted)