South African Elections / Election Notebook

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UP UNTIL the weekend, there was a radio advertisement for Telkom, the South African telephone service, which ran something like this.

Mock news announcer: 'The results of the South African election will not be known for three months. Ox-carts carrying the ballot boxes from outlying areas of Natal have now started their journey to Durban . . . (fade).'

Smarmy voice-over: 'This is the picture of South Africa which would have been presented to the outside world, if it was not for the telephone . . .'

At some point yesterday - with results two days overdue and still counting - the advertisement disappeared from the airwaves.

THE amateurish muddle of the Independent Electoral Commission is mirrored by the professional muddle of the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The effect, if you are trying to follow the results on television, is like wearing sun- glasses in a darkened room. One endearing eccentricity of the SABC is its use of a puppet as a political interviewer. Between the missed cues and chaotic hand-overs, there are frequent appearances by Clarence, a bad-tempered, blue-faced Muppet look-alike with a purple bow-tie and an Afrikaans accent.

A highlight of the weekend was Clarence interviewing the Rev Al Sharpton, the corpulent New York minister and political activist. Mr Sharpton, one of dozens of black US politicians here to witness the burial of apartheid, was, for the first time in his life, stuck for words. He stared at Clarence in bewilderment. Finally, he saw the joke. 'I've been here since Saturday,' he drawled. 'And you Clarence are the first person I've met that reminds me of an American politician.'

IT MAY be a long time before South Africa becomes a racial melting pot but it is already a linguistic one. English, Afrikaans and the multiplicity of African languages blend into a slang that is rich. With so many visitors in the country, the Johannesburg Sunday Times thoughtfully provided a glossary.

'Doing a Winnie' is to make a come-back. A stock-broker might say: 'It certainly wasn't bluechip stock to start with but by Jove they've done a Winnie with it.' The mini-bus taxis that try to nudge each other off the country's roads are known, after the famous Olympic track collision-victims, as 'Zola Budds' or 'Mary Deckers'.

Amandla means freedom, and so 'Amandla Armanis' are upwardly mobile leaders of the liberation struggle. With affirmative action to assist black people on the ANC agenda, the toyi-toyi, or shuffling street dance, is known to some as 'affirmative aerobics'; shop-lifting is 'affirmative shopping'.

HEADLINE in the Johannesburg Sunday Times: 'Broken leg will slow down Pope.'

YET more trouble with invisible ink. This substance is stamped on voters' hands to prevent them from voting twice (it becomes visible under ultra-violet light). In parts of the Orange Free State, the IEC failed to supply the ink to polling stations, but the local officials carried on regardless. One enterprising voter rang up the obscure Federal Party to announce that he had obtained four temporary identity cards from different sources and voted for the Feds four times. (Judging by early results, these were about the only votes the party received in the Orange Free State.)