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South African Elections: Buthelezi spies a plot in poll chaos

Chances were fading that South Africa's first all-race elections could be considered free and fair because of 'gross irregularities' and 'absolutely chaotic' organisation of the polls, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi said yesterday during a tour of a voting station in Mahlabatini, his home area.

'It does not seem likely that it is going to be free and fair,' he said. 'There are many irregularities . . . gross irregularities.' But Chief Buthelezi welcomed the decision by Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to extend the voting until today in KwaZulu and several former nominally independent 'homelands'. 'It would go a long way to allaying the fears of many people who are angry that they have been denied the right to vote,' the Chief said.

Chief Buthelezi said there was anger building up among residents of KwaZulu over the lack of ballot papers, and over an initial shortage of Inkatha Freedom Party stickers and voting equipment in rural KwaZulu. He admitted that violence could occur. Several ballot boxes had been tampered with, he said, and polling agents of his mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party had been driven from several voting stations. African National Congress officials have made similar charges against Inkatha.

Chief Buthelezi made his comments at the end of a day in which the IEC and the South African government made frantic efforts to ensure voters could cast their ballots. A crisis atmosphere has gripped the IEC since Chief Buthelezi suggested on Wednesday that he would consider pulling out of the elections unless the problem of the lack of IFP stickers was solved. But early yesterday he said he had 'no intention of pulling out'.

Two military helicopters ferried thousands of ballot papers into Ulundi yesterday to distribute to the 27 polling stations in the Mahalbatini region. A team of civil servants from the Home Affairs Ministry flew into the KwaZulu capital to help organise the election effort.

KwaZulu has been among the regions most affected by poor organisation in the election, with thousands of people queuing on Thursday to obtain temporary voting cards. The problem arose after Chief Buthelezi's late decision, on 19 April, to contest the polls. This followed an agreement with President F W de Klerk's government and the ANC president, Nelson Mandela, to amend the constitution to ensure the recognition of the Zulu monarchy.

Besides the confusion at the polls in KwaZulu, there were other sources of concerns about the fairness of the vote. At several polling stations within a 20-mile radius of Ulundi there were no other party agents and no security force members other than Inkatha officials and KwaZulu police. That violated an agreement between the political parties and the IEC that the South African Defence Force and the South African Police would be present at all polling stations.

At Nsabekhuluma, north of Ulundi, the deputy presiding officer, Father Eugene Mhlongo, said in reference to Inkatha, 'only one party is represented here as you can imagine'. Other parties 'would not dare to come'.

There were no signs of long queues of potential voters, and most of the polling stations in the area had sufficient ballot papers. One in KwaMame had run out by midday after processing 600 people, said Joseph Jiyane, the presiding officer. Anyone who wanted to vote there or in Ceza, about 15 miles north-west, was sent to Nsabekhuluma, where several buses arrived from neighbouring areas.

No one in Ulundi, however, appeared to know how many ballot papers, which were printed in Johannesburg last night, had been brought to KwaZulu yesterday. Thembinkosi Memela, a senior KwaZulu government official, said 104,000 ballots had arrived in Ulundi in the morning. Chief Buthelezi said the ballots had been sent to the town of Empangeni, about 50 miles south, in error, and the deputy chairman of the IEC, Dikgang Moseneke, said he had brought 40,000 on his plane. Mr Moseneke insisted outside a polling station at Dabulamansi School that inside they were using new ballot papers, which do not require the IFP stickers. Minutes later, however, the presiding officer, Peter Mohapi, said he was still using the old papers because the new ballot papers had not arrived. He endorsed a common belief that the chaos was aimed at hurting Inkatha's electoral chances. 'We really have a suspicion that there is something fishy,' he said.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 18

A good man, page 21