South African Elections: Sand, sun and booze on package poll trip

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The Independent Online
JOHANNESBURG - The South African elections will be turning up a whole new definition of the term 'floating voter', writes John Carlin.

By special arrangement with the august Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), World Leisure Holidays has arranged for a polling booth to be installed at a beachfront hotel in the Indian Ocean setting of the Comoros Islands, just three hours' flight from Johannesburg.

A charter flight leaving on Saturday 23 April will be carrying 140 white South Africans to Le Galawa Beach Hotel to spend the week of the elections - voting is from 26 to 28 April - a safe distance from the madding black crowds.

For the fear to which these, like many other whites are prey is that the black population will go on a riotous looting spree - 'affirmative shopping', they call it in Soweto - to celebrate the inevitable victory of Nelson Mandela.

Bruce Hutchinson, the managing director of World Leisure, said he did a bit of market research and discovered that whites' zeal to vote had nevertheless got the better of their fear. 'We found that reservations during the voting period were extremely poor, so I got hold of the IEC, suggested they set up a voting booth at the hotel and when they agreed, we put an advertisement in the paper offering an 'election special'. '

The advertisement, which ran in the Johannesburg Sunday Times on 20 March, offered a package for 2,990 rand ( pounds 580) that included a return airfare, daily breakfasts and dinners, theme parties, dinner dances, water sports, an election booth on the beach and - the clincher, Mr Hutchinson said - 24-hour news coverage from CNN. 'CNN will be blitzing on the election so people won't miss a thing.'

Within two days of the advertisement appearing, the flight was fully booked. 'We resolved a problem. People don't want to be around for fear of upheavals or strife and yet they don't want to leave because they want to vote. So now they'll be able to vote in comfort and total safety at the beach,' Mr Hutchinson said.

What is more, they will be able to drink. In South Africa, a ban has been imposed on the public sale of alcohol during the three days of the elections. At Le Galawa Beach, the voting will be anything but dry.