History is delayed by SA's slow vote count

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The Independent Online
THE NATIONAL result of the South African election has been put beyond doubt by Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk but, vote counting still proceeding at a snail's pace, the decision was taken last night to postpone Mr Mandela's presidential acclamation in parliament from Friday to Monday.

The Transitional Executive Council, the multi-party body overseeing the transition to a democratic government, also ruled that the first sittings of the nine new provincial assemblies would be shifted forward from tomorrow, as originally scheduled, to Saturday. With more than 50 per cent of the votes counted nationally, the ANC had 62.5 per cent of the vote, the National Party had 22.1 per cent and Inkatha was third with 8.3 per cent.

The great unanswered question remained KwaZulu-Natal where barely a quarter of the results had been tallied by last night. The outcome of the battle for control of the provincial assembly between Inkatha and the African National Congress remained in question and appeared unlikely to be resolved until late tonight.

The fundamental object of the electoral exercise, as Mr de Klerk said on Monday when he conceded victory to Mr Mandela, is peace. Nowhere in South Africa has there been less peace these last 10 years than KwaZulu-Natal, where 10,000 have died in political violence. Already, with Inkatha in the lead, the ANC is claiming widespread fraud. Should the ANC snatch victory after the results come in from their urban strongholds, notably Durban where 50 per cent of the province's population lives, Inkatha's well- armed warriors may express their disappointment through a resumption of their traditional methods of political engagement.

Whichever side emerges as the majority in KwaZulu-Natal, political observers were saying yesterday that delicate negotiations are likely to be required once more to avert a new crisis. Mangosuthu Buthelezi offered an olive branch yesterday, however, when he echoed the sentiments of Mr de Klerk on Monday and said he would be happy to work under an ANC-led government.

A more immediate problem yesterday, violence levels having subsided remarkably in the last week, was how it would be physically possible to muster enough personnel to fill the seats in the provincial assembly at the scheduled official opening in Pietermaritzburg tomorrow morning. Not least as the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, was due to preside over the session, whose main purpose will be to elect a provincial premier.

All nine provincial assemblies were due to perform similar ceremonies tomorrow and to face similar difficulties. The TEC bowed to the inevitable and announced one more time that history would have to be postponed a few days.

The proportional representation system requires that the success of parliamentary candidates depends on their position on the party lists. With the overall percentages shifting almost hourly many potential members both of the national and provincial legislatures might still struggle to make their travel plans in time for the amended legislative sittings. Confusing the picture still more, the initial lists drawn up three months ago have changed considerably since then, a number of candidates having belatedly declared their intention not to participate in parliamentary politics.

ANC leaders, in particular, face a daunting logistical challenge. In total, they will need to assemble and deploy at least 600 new legislators between now and Monday.

It was issues such as these that prompted a private meeting yesterday in Pretoria between the incoming and outgoing presidents. A spokesman for Mr de Klerk refused to disclose what the issues would be, but it was understood that the question of the composition of the new government of national unity was also on the agenda.

Constitutionally, a party needs 5 per cent of the national vote to qualify for a seat in cabinet. The only certainty yesterday was that Mr de Klerk, as the leader of the second biggest party, would occupy one of the two vice-presidential positions. But Mr Mandela indicated in his victory speech on Monday night that he was prepared to entertain some flexibility in the rules.

He hinted strongly that the Afrikaner Freedom Front, the liberal Democratic Party and the radical Pan-Africanist Congress - all of which will fail to make the 5 per cent threshold - might all be offered ministerial positions in the new government. The rumour in political circles yesterday was that Mr Mandela might attempt to defuse the far-right threat by offering the leader of the right-wing Freedom Front, General Constand Viljoen, the post of minister of defence.

An immediate difficulty the minister of defence, whoever he is, will have to confront concerns the former ANC guerrillas who are due to be integrated into the new South African National Defence Force over the next six months.

While the rest of black South Africa celebrated Mr Mandela's victory on Monday night, a drunken mob of former freedom fighters went on the rampage at their temporary base near Pretoria, attacking their commanders and stoning their vehicles.

Change timetable

7 May: The nine new provincial legislatures hold their first sitting to elect their premiers.

9 May: The National Assembly sits in parliament in Cape Town to elect the president.

10 May: Presidential inauguration at Union Buildings in Pretoria.

23 May: Parliament holds its first formal session in Cape Town, expected to last two to three weeks.

April 1999: South Africa holds its second democratic elections.

Leading article, page 15

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