Confusion hinders SA local elections

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The Independent Online

Associated Press

Johannesburg - South Africa's first all-race local elections were marred in some areas yesterday by problems, including improper ballots, late officials and even a hungry elephant that caused people to wait for hours.

Confusion resulting from people going to the wrong polling station or failing to find their names on registration lists also slowed the process and sparked angry confrontations.

But at many polling stations, long lines demonstrated that democracy was at work, extending the political power obtained by the black majority in the African National Congress, now in government with the first all- race vote last year, to the local level.

While President Nelson Mandela's ANC won the April 1994 election to head the national government, there were no black elected officials at local level, though some black mayors were appointed over the past 18 months as transitional leaders.

"This is the completion of the democratic process," Mr Mandela said on a visit to a polling station in the Atteridgeville black township outside Pretoria. Because he registered in Cape Town, where voting has been postponed due to a boundary dispute, Mr Mandela did not vote yesterday.

Election officials expressed satisfaction with the voting, calling it generally smoother than the national vote last year. But in some areas, polling officers worried that the slow pace would make it impossible to handle all voters before polls closed.

Scuffling broke out at a polling station in a black township near Pretoria when people whose names were missing from the voters' lists protested. The station shut down while police and election officials tried to restore order. The ANC urged people experiencing difficulties to remain calm "and desist from doing anything which might hamper the process of voting".

About 500 people awoke with the dawn in the Phola Park squatter camp south of Johannesburg to be the first in line at three green and yellow tents set up on a soccer field.

"I care about these elections so I thought other people would care," said Beauty Mvimbi, who turned up 90 minutes early. She said last year's election, which ended apartheid and inspired hope for millions of poor blacks, was different from yesterday. "That was one about the government and now it is about services," she said. "We need houses, services, everything."

A holiday was called for the elections to choose almost 700 local and rural councils. Most of the councils were expected to be black-led.

Turnout was expected to be low because of voter apathy and confusion over a dual ballot paper that asks people to vote for a candidate and separately for a party. Many South Africans also complained that the government had failed to deliver on promises of jobs and houses made before last year's election and questioned why they should vote again.

"Most of us, we don't want to vote because the government doesn't want to do anything for us," said Mongezeleli Nqilo, 27, outside a polling station in the Kayamandi black township near Stellenbosch in Western Cape province. "I'm going to vote but in my heart I don't like it because I don't know the candidates."

Political disputes forced voting to be postponed until next year in KwaZulu- Natal province and the Cape Town metropolitan area, along with some isolated rural areas.

Among the logistical problems at some polling places were improper ballot papers, missing materials, late officials and even a lack of electricity.

Voting in the remote Mhinga area, near Kruger National Park, was delayed for about an hour by a lone bull elephant eating berries and leaves near a polling station. Many people were afraid to approach the elephant for fear it would charge. Voting resumed after the elephant moved on.