South African Elections: Registration a photo-finish in the KwaZulu hills

A CROWD of 700 was organising with modest success into queues to be photographed for temporary voting cards as Patrick Hlophe, 24, said, 'I think the voting must be continued until Friday, even Saturday.'

Mr Hlophe has no official position with the Independent Electoral Commission which is running South Africa's first all-race elections. But since he is on the front line of attempting to make the polls a success, his words carry weight. Mr Hlophe is the official photograph cutter in Ndwedwe.

The photographer who was taking pictures of those without proper documents to entitle them to vote, handed the film to Mr Hlophe who shook it in the air to dry it quickly and then trimmed the photos with scissors so the aspirant voter could apply for a temporary voting card.

So rowdy did the crowd waiting for temporary voting cards become yesterday, that Mr Hlophe and his photographer had to flee.

The lack of the proper ID among the rural inhabitants of Natal province and the KwaZulu homeland it surrounds has become a major, time consuming obstacle to finishing the elections on time today.

Also hampering the process has been a severe shortage of ballots, voting materials, and stickers for Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, which was not included on the original ballot when it entered the race on 19 April. Chief Buthelezi expressed alarm at the developments yesterday, especially the lack of voting materials and the IFP stickers.

During a press conference in Ulundi, the capital of KwaZulu, he described the situation as a 'crisis' and said he might have to ask his Inkatha central committee to decide whether or not to pull out of the election.

The election has not gone well for Mr Hlophe and other workers in Ndwedwe. It was always going to be a difficult area.

Before Inkatha agreed to participate in the elections, voter-education workers were run out of the area under the threat of death. On 11 April, seven labourers distributing leaflets urging people to vote for 'a better South Africa' were hacked to death.

On Tuesday, a dispute arose when the local Inkatha nkosi, or chief, threatened to boycott the process because, he said, too many of the voting stations were located on the periphery of Ndwedwe in areas controlled by the African National Congress.

Yesterday, logistics foul-ups came to the fore. First, election materials, including the machine to scan for indelible ink to stop double voting, did not arrive. A helicopter flew in with some ballots, boxes and equipment but got lost in the Ndwedwe hills. The pilots had to borrow maps from a team of Commonwealth Observers to find their way.

Voting began only at 10am, three hours behind schedule. Only two centres were providing temporary voting cards in the district yesterday, and thousands of people will need them to vote.

The story is the same all over rural KwaZulu. Some election observers have also questioned the age of some of the voter applicants, suggesting that the procedure of issuing temporary cards could result in fraud. When queried about how the age of some youngsters is determined, one foreign observer said, 'ask their mother'.

Given the severe logistical problems, much of the responsibility for the success of the elections will rest on the shoulders of young workers such as Mr Hlophe. He and his photographer were working with just one camera yesterday, and more people were being bussed in from the more rural areas of Ndwedwe into the afternoon.

'We will run out of film before the end of the day,' he said. 'There is no way we can finish all these people by tomorrow.'

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