Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Precarious Election in South Africa

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Precarious Election in South Africa

Article excerpt

Speculation here in Capetown is that most foreigners believe that with the Inkatha Freedom Party taking part in the South African elections, the road is paved for smooth balloting.

Unfortunately the broad range of this country's level of organization, communications and logistics belie any simplistic optimisim for the nation's first truly democratic election. No one outside South Africa can feel the charge that is in the air from excitement stemming from novelty, intense partisanship and historic implications.

Working as a peace monitor with the Network of Independent Monitors here in Cape Town and having trained as an election observer with the National Electoral Observer Network and simply reading the local papers, I am anxious about what the elections will bring.

I was trained as an observer along with a group of well-credentialed volunteers. In the group was an English anthropologist, a principal of a Cape Town high school, a master's student from Australia and some Cape Town executives. After learning our basic duties, we were asked by our trainers if we had any questions. We did, and the lack of answers was alarming. Questions covered topics from arrangements for handicapped voters to the accelerating concern about security. Answers were vague and non-committal.

As a peace monitor, I was in a "colored" township last Thursday monitoring a rally by the African National Congress. I noticed voters registering with the Department of Home Affairs, the government branch that has the enormous responsibility of achieving a valid sense of the people's will. That day, seven working days before the start of the election, two officials were set up in front of a line that overflowed out of the town hall. Other parts of this country such as Natal and the violence-ridden Johannesburg townships were worse.

Observers are frequently asked, "What percentage of the people will be registered and vote?" The huge disparity among segments of the voting population in socio-economic and literacy levels, as well as South Africa's legal separation of the races, makes the question all the more facinating.

Confusion and uncertainty tend to lead to mistrust and very quickly to violence as the past few weeks have shown.

On a positive note, considerable credit should go to those involved in the broad voter education campaigns throughout South Africa. They have fought an uphill battle to inform and educate the previously disenfranchised.

But what about Natal, the home province of the Zulus - a name that evokes visions of fierce and independent frighters? Voter education was being prevented in Zulu strongholds until Mangosuthu Buthaleze agreed to join the fray. Million of Zulus remain confused about the issues and voting process including the novel principle of the secret ballot.

A popular slogan here has been "One man, one vote. …

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