South African Elections: No violence but muddle at the polls

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

SOUTH AFRICA's first democratic election may have to be prolonged by an extra day following an error-strewn but bomb-free limited first round day of voting. yesterday.

Scores of administrative problems from shortage of ballot papers to locked polling stations were reported around the country on a day of 'special voting' for the sick, elderly, handicapped, pregnant and imprisoned.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) last night refused appeals from the Inkatha Freedom Party, and less vehemently the ANC, for an extension of the two days of open voting which begin today. But the Commission may be forced to reconsider if the kind of confusion seen in many areas yesterday is repeated , or even redoubled, when the vast bulk of South Africa's 23 million voters try to go to the polls this morning.

The good news was that the voting, the first by all races in South African history, was relatively free of violence. Two trucks carrying unused ballot papers were set on fire near the east Rand township of Katlehong. But there was no continuation of the spate of 13 bombings, causing 21 deaths, which disfigured the previous two days.

It emerged yesterday that Police had shot dead a white man in the early hours of yesterday morning after he tried to tamper with evidence at the scene of an explosion in a Pretoria bar on Monday night in which two black people died. The Johannesburg Star reported that three people had been detained for questioning in connection with the bombings., campaign, believed to be the work of the white-supremacist Right. Responsibility for the most serious of the attacks, the bombing of at a taxi rank in Germiston, which killed 10 black people on Monday morning, has been claimed by the ultra-right Boere Bevrydingsbeweging (BBB). Police yesterday issued an identikit picture of a white man suspected of involvement in the Johannesburg car bombing in Johannesburg city centre on Sunday in which nine people died.

At his final press conference of the election campaign, the ANC president, Nelson Mandela, appealed to voters of all races to ignore the violence. 'Standing together, let us send a message loud and clear: we will not let a handful of killers steal our democracy.'

As of Last night the greatest threat to the elections seemed to come from administrative foul-ups, caused partly by the Inkatha's late entry into the campaign. of the Inkatha Freedom Party. There were angry scenes in Soweto and other Johannesburg area townships when polling stations did not open or ballot papers were not delivered on time. Some elderly voters people waited for up to seven hours to cast the first ballots votes of their lives.

But The worst problems were in KwaZulu-Natal, where polling stations were short of both ballot papers and the add-on stickers devised to include Inkatha when the party belatedly entered the election last week. There were also reports of buses arriving at the wrong polling stations. Elsewhere, general polling stations which were not supposed to open until today threw open their doors and long queues of ordinary voters formed prematurely outside. The IEC sent urgent orders for ordered them to close. down.

The Inkatha spokesman, Ed Tillett, said: 'How can one hope to achieve fair election results? In vast areas (our) supporters cannot vote today.' What it boils down to is plain, incompentency'.

The electoral commission chairman, Justice Johann Kriegler, told a press conference last night that said there had been teething troubles but most of the day's voting had gone reasonably well. He said there was plenty of time left over in the next two days for everyone to vote.

However, a potentially serious problem is arising over the Inkatha add-on stickers. These are not turning up at many polling stations. Under the rules laid down, any ballot paper filled in without the sticker attached is invalid.

(Photograph omitted)