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)

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam