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South African Election Guide: KwaZulu gets crash course on how to vote

DAVID NGCOBO was still worried yesterday that someone would come to burn down his house in rural KwaZulu, but not, as he thought a few days ago, if he went to vote in next week's general elections. His fear now was what would happen if he did not show up at the polls.

'If I do not vote, my house is going to be gone, burnt down,' the unemployed construction worker said at the magistrate's court in Ndwedwe. 'If everyone, my mother and father, say come along and vote, I do not want to be left out like a bat. My wife and oldest son must vote too.'

Mr Ngcobo, 41, a father of five, was coming to grips with the new reality that has existed in the KwaZulu 'homeland' in Natal province since Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi decided this week to lift his boycott of next week's elections and to urge residents in areas controlled by his Inkatha Freedom Party to vote.

Before Chief Buthelezi's turnabout, Ndwedwe, a sprawling settlement of villages in the lush green hills of KwaZulu about 20 miles north of Durban, had become one of the worst killing zones in the low-level civil war between Inkatha and the African National Congress. Drive-by shootings were common, even once against a patrol of the South African Defence Force which has been enforcing the state of emergency declared by President F W de Klerk on 31 March.

Voter-education workers and anyone distributing material to promote the first all-race elections were potential targets for assassins. A particularly grisly murder occurred at Ndwedwe on 11 April, when seven labourers distributing leaflets urging people to vote for 'a better South Africa' were hacked to death and their bodies burnt.

'Before, if we came here they would have killed us,' said Jabu Basi, leader of a team of Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) workers who went to Ndwedwe yesterday to give residents a crash- course on how to vote. 'Last week we would have all been dead.'

Tembinkosi Nzama, 36, a secondary-school mathematics teacher, said that once Chief Buthelezi decided to enter the election race, the climate for elections in KwaZulu changed overnight. 'A few days ago, it was very dangerous to even speak about the election. But once Chief Buthelezi spoke, automatically everything became smooth,' he said. 'Now there is no one around here who is against the election.'

All across KwaZulu, snap voter- education drives by church workers, the IEC and Inkatha have got under way in the past two days. Their task is to explain to people, many of them illiterate, how to mark their ballots and what identity documents are needed to ensure they are eligible to vote.

Many people in Ndwedwe were concerned they did not have the right ID papers, or that having only their old ones would disqualify them. Several young men kicked up a fuss at the magistrate's court because they had not been issued new IDs. The magistrate was at lunch, but the IEC workers said they would see what they could do about getting temporary voting cards.

There is little time left for the voter-education activists to get out into the villages, so they have had to make do with pitching up at schools, churches, magistrates' courts, anywhere people gather. Before beginning their explanations, the workers hand out a colourful mock ballot with all 19 parties and pamphlets with titles like 'what you need to know about the double ballot'. Their hope is that the scores of people they do reach in the remaining days will spread the message to neighbours.

Mr Nzama, who has been chosen to be an election officer at a polling- station in Ndwedwe, said he was confident that by polling day most people would know what to do. The reason has less to do with voter-education campaigns and more to do with peer pressure and the deep traditional beliefs in rural KwaZulu.

'The amakhosi (traditional chiefs) are telling everyone they have to vote,' Mr Nzama said, 'and most people listen to them. The amakhosi have the power to bring out the votes.'

(Map omitted)