South African Elections: A saying that lifts the heart even against impossible odds - Commentary

THERE'S an expression in South Africa, as common among blacks as among whites, used in English as in Afrikaans. 'We'll make a plan.'

It denotes optimism, even against impossible odds. It means that you have no idea how you are going to solve a problem, be it as trivial as deciding where to go to dinner or as serious as persuading Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi to take part in the elections, but you are confident that when the crunch comes you will sort it out, you will make a plan.

No expression, no thought, captures better South Africa's predicament today. No one had a clue five years ago how the apartheid question was going to be settled but, well, a plan was made and blacks and whites are voting together for the first time. During those five years new problems, complicating a solution to the Big Problem, reared their heads. If it wasn't the political prisoners issue, it was amnesty for the security forces; if it wasn't the white right, it was the black right.

Anyone who imagined that the final consummation of 'the process' was going to go without a hitch was forgetting that eleventh- hour complications are as much a part of South Africa as the elephants in Kruger Park. The bombing campaign that began on Sunday and has so far claimed 21 lives raised the fear that the tortuous negotiating of the last four years might prove in vain.

Yesterday morning we awoke to learn a bomb had gone off at Johannesburg's Jan Smuts Airport. On Tuesday General Johan van der Merwe, the spectacularly unimpressive Commissioner of Police, had declared that a breakthrough in the bombing campaign investigation was imminent. Yeah, sure, South Africans said. We've heard that one before. The instinct to scepticism appeared to have been justified by the airport bomb. But then it emerged that no one had died and that someone had been arrested. And then, in the afternoon, General van der Merwe confounded us all by announcing that the police had made 31 arrests, that the terror ring had been cracked. He'd done it. He'd made a plan.

Maybe more bombs will go off today. But for the moment the biggest problem concerns the confusion about the voting, the failure of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to get the polling mechanics right.

Chief Buthelezi was suddenly suggesting he might pull out of the elections altogether. When he complains that his supporters have not had sufficient voter education, he overlooks the fact that it was they themselves who only two weeks ago were killing voter educators on sight. When he complains that not enough Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) stickers have been printed to add to ballot papers, he forgets the problem was generated by his stubborn - and ultimately fatuous - refusal to agree to contest the elections until the last possible minute.

Nevertheless, he does have a point. Judge Johan Kriegler, the IEC chairman, had assured him that he could make a plan to accommodate Inkatha. That plan has not worked altogether satisfactorily and, no doubt, the good judge will now come up with another one. Whatever it is, he will have to make sure that every South African has had the opportunity to vote if he or she wishes.

The thrust of the negotiations exercise has been to make the elections as inclusive as possible. It would be preposterous, now that all the parties bar the lunatic right are officially on board, if individual supporters of all the parties were physically unable to exercise their fundamental democratic right.

But if there is one thing South Africans have always been good at - whether it is circumventing sanctions or forging impossible constitutions - it is thinking on their feet. In the end they muddle through. They make a plan.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot