South African Elections: First voters' joy as dream comes true

DURBAN - Josefina Bala, 72, skipped out of the hall at King Edward Hospital, pirouetted and announced: 'I'm so happy. My mother did not see this. My grandmother and grandfather did not see this,' writes Karl Maier.

Mrs Bala was celebrating democracy yesterday, as she became the first person at the hospital to vote in South Africa's historic all-race elections. She was among tens of thousands of 'special voters' - the elderly, the ill, pregnant women, and members of the security forces - who cast the first votes.

Many voters at King Edward had been waiting since 7am. They waited patiently. After a 350-year-long delay, a few hours did not make much difference. A young man removed stickers from walls and windows. The posters had an X beside the face of Nelson Mandela. 'We do not want the voters to be influenced,' he said.

Most of the voters were women, many of them pregnant or with infants in their arms. Their families had been victims of the civil war in Natal between the African National Congress and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party that has claimed 10,000 lives in a decade. Vrola Mtetwa, 54, was holding her four-month-old grandson, Vosumus. She worried that bad eyesight would prevent her seeing the ballot paper. 'It's something like dreaming, because we did not think it could be true, something like a vote,' Mrs Mtetwa said. 'If it is going to change things, it is going to change for these people,' she said, patting Vosumus on the head.

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