South African Elections: Confusion reigns as the count crawls along

BY YESTERDAY evening, 36 hours after counting started in the South African election, only 16 per cent of the vote had been officially tallied. If the remainder of the count proceeds at the same pitiful rate, it will continue until the end of next week.

Mercifully, this seems unlikely (although anything is possible). The best projections of the harassed and discredited officials of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is that the count should be over by tomorrow night.

More disturbing, the virtual collapse of the original counting procedure has revealed deep flaws in the organisation of the election. It is clear that the same flaws provided opportunities for systematic fraud; what remains unclear is how widely the opportunities were seized.

On the whole, international and domestic observers are convinced the election was honest, if messy. But ANC officials have accused the Inkatha Freedom Party of stuffing whole ballot boxes with bogus votes in KwaZulu-Natal; senior National Party officials in the Northern Transvaal accused the ANC of 'rigging' the local poll in precisely the same way.

Confusion in the count took many forms: too many vote- counters turned up in some places; too few in others; computers failed; unidentified ballot boxes turned up in counting stations; others went missing altogether; scuffles broke out after an IEC official was found with a car full of unused ballot papers and empty ballot boxes.

But the muddle had two root causes. The first was the failure of the election rules to demand a separate, official count of how many people voted. There was no electoral roll; anyone with a valid identity document could vote wherever they wanted. Without a head- count of voters, there was no final line of defence against ballot- stuffing by corrupt or partisan election officials.

The second source of confusion was the decision - for the best of motives - to by-pass the political parties and the existing, suspect Afrikaner bureaucracy. The IEC, headed by Judge Johan Kriegler - a man with no administrative experience - made a creditable effort to employ people right across the racial, social and educational spectrum. The result was perhaps predictable: scrupulous attention to the rules in some areas; sloppiness and errors in others.

When the count began on Saturday morning, the looseness of the procedure, and the weaknesses of the instant, electoral bureaucracy, produced gridlock. Many of the 1,200 counting stations failed to open. Scores of others got bogged down for hours on the first stage of the counting process: the checking of the number of ballot papers in boxes against the number issued at each polling station. This proved to be a nightmare: documentation had not been completed properly and the origin of hundreds of ballot boxes was unclear.

On Saturday night, the entire count appeared doomed to collapse into chaos, throwing the validity of the election itself into doubt. The embattled and rumpled Justice Kriegler appeared on television to announce his Gordian solution. He was abandoning the preliminary - 're-conciliation' - stage of the count altogther. In any case, he calmly announced, it was pointless wiithout a separate count of how many people had voted.

Unfortunately, yesterday afternoon, 18 hours after Justice Kriegler's announcement, counting stations all over the country were stubbornly wrestling with the procedure he had abandoned. Gradually, they all moved on to the count proper, raising hopes that the process might end some time today.

Justice Kriegler told a television interviewer: 'It is right that it is like this. It is our country and that's the way we are . We are not super- efficient all the time.

'What we've got to do isn't to certify the election as meticulous . . . what we've got to do is say whether this process . . . is a good enough test of the will of the people.'

Trek of the good Afrikaner, page 14

(Photographs,map and graphics omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence