Four days of voting in South Africa mark the end of apartheid and the beginning of a long road to equality
THE DAWN OF DEMOCRACY
Four days of voting in South Africa mark the end of apartheid and the beginning of a long road to equality
They began queuing well before sunrise, as if getting to the polls early could hasten the dawn of a new South Africa. Some of the elderly came on crutches, or clutching crumpled photos of Nelson Mandela so that they would know whose face on the ballot paper to put their mark beside. In keeping with South Africa’s violent ethos, some younger voters in the black townships packed guns. By midmorning on April 27, the second day of voting, the lines of those waiting to cast ballots in the country’s first democratic elections were very long and moving very, very slowly. At some of the more than 9,000 polling stations, the ballot papers did not even arrive. But methodically, over three days— and then a hastily added fourth in some areas—South Africans of all races crossed their final river. They marked their X and, in doing so, gracefully swept away the evil of apartheid.
In true South African fashion, the old racist regime died in a kaleidoscope of emotions. There was euphoria, seen in the joyous faces of those voting for the first time—including that of Mandela, the 75-year-old leader of the African National Congress (ANC) whose unbroken resolve during 27 years in prison helped to catalyse the black march to freedom. There was fear, felt by blacks and whites alike, at the prospect of violence from unrepentant racist whites, who made good on their threats to disrupt the election. Explosions rocked several voting stations, while two car bombs in and around Johannesburg on the eve of the election killed 19 people. And there was plenty of frustration with a sometimes chaotic balloting process. Somehow, although organizers printed 40 million ballots, there were not enough for the estimated 22.7-million voters. All sides cried foul, and the counting process, which began Saturday, was slow and controversial.
Still, the elections offered reason to hope that South Africa’s worst trials are over, that the country is headed “out of the darkness into the glorious light,” befitting the inscription on a wreath Mandela laid last week at the grave of ANC founder John Dube. It will still be a tough
journey. Mandela, who is expected to be named president by the 400 deputies of the new National Assembly as early as this week, faces a huge challenge in meeting the expectations of millions of poor blacks who have always assumed that universal suffrage would bring to an end to their personal suffering. He will preside over a parliament split into testy, impatient and suspicious parties and factions, and he will have to find a way to restore prosperity to the South African economy.
Throughout election week, Mandela repeatedly struck a note of reconciliation, which he hoped would spread across a country that has perfected the art of division. “Let bygones be bygones,” he implored. “Let us heal the wounds of the past.” And he showed, on every occasion, how this could be done, stopping to say hello to a group of white policemen after casting his own ballot in a shantytown in Natal province. “He went through a tough school, you know, but there’s no bitterness there,” said one white policeman. “It’s incredible.” That has been Mandela’s theme throughout
the campaign: forgiveness, healing, a fresh start. “We would like the white community to realize that we cannot build this country without them,” Mandela said.
Part of that pitch is simple pragmatism. To govern, Mandela needs the whites who run the country’s businesses, its civil services and its security services. The mutual dependency between South Africa’s five million whites and 30 million blacks was the basis of the deal struck last year between the ANC and the National Party, which paved the way for the elections and the government of national unity that will rule the country until 1999. The new government is sure to be ANC-led. But it has guaranteed cabinet posts for any party— 19 were running nationally—that receives at least 5 per cent of the vote.
Critically, the deal allowed white civil servants to keep their jobs for five years and to retain their pensions. As a result, whites will retain much of their influence, at least in the short term, until blacks step into the senior posts that will be opened to them by affirma-
tíve-action hiring. It is a sign of outgoing State President F. W. de Klerk’s political acuity: preserving a solid rump of white power in the postapartheid order. But it also means that the new government will have a large—and growingpublic sector, probably requiring it to borrow heavily from international lenders. That situation is sure to worry jittery investors. They are already unsettled by the alliance between the South African Communist Party and the ANC, and by Mandela’s ambitious plans to boost spending on housing and education. The tensions between the requirements of foreign lenders and domestic demands for the fruits of freedom will test Mandela almost as soon as he takes office.
He will also preside over what is sure to be a divisive round of constitutional negotiations, which must be completed within two years. The National Assembly, with 200 members elected at large and 200 more from the nine new provinces, must draft a constitution that can win two-thirds support from the parliament.
Its most difficult challenge will be striking a balance between the powers of the central government and those of the regions. The ANC has always favored a highly centralized state. But it will have to accommodate the demands of KwaZulu-Natal, where the rival Inkatha Freedom Party enjoys its greatest support and is demanding more powers for itself. Inkatha’s leader, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, wants autonomy to promote the Zulu culture and preserve his own power.
Another demand for special status will come from hardline Afrikaners, who want a volkstaat, or white homeland, within South Africa. The ANC has agreed to discuss the principle of a volkstaat. But Afrikaners cannot even say where that homeland should be and continue to demand the right to deny blacks who live there the vote—a non-starter with the ANC.
The gravest threat to the new government does not lie in the legislative chamber. For the past five years, young, armed and dangerous Inkatha and ANC supporters have waged war in the dusty South African townships. Stamping out that war is crucial to establishing the new government’s legitimacy. That would likely require a massive purge of local police forces, whose members now are regarded with hostility and mistrust by all. ‘There is a huge gap between the police and the community,” said Sylvain Chetty, who works with a local church group in the townships around Port Shepstone on the east coast, where some of the worst violence has erupted. “The only businesses thriving here are gunrunning and funeral parlors.”
Changing the guard in a corrupt police force is one thing. But Mandela must also quell the local hatreds that perpetuate the killings. One of his proposed solutions is to change the character of hostels, the dormitories that provide shelter to migrant workers and have proved fertile recruiting grounds for armed gangs. He
would allow men to live there only if they were with their families, believing that such an environment would reduce the tendency for bored men in the company of others to perpetuate their armed rivalries.
Tensions between the ANC and Inkatha were evident throughout last week’s voting. Some people travelled miles out of their way to reach voting stations in friendly areas. And both sides complained about irregularities in the balloting, blaming each other for everything from a shortage of independent monitors to intimidation and an absence of ballots. “It does not seem likely that the elections will be free and fair,” said Buthelezi during a tour of a voting station in Mahlabatini, his home area. Buthelezi’s protestations, however, seemed disingenuous. It was his decision to enter the campaign at the eleventh hour on April 19, by which time the ballots had already been printed, that caused much of the chaos: harried organizers had to affix stickers bearing his party’s name and his photo to each voting slip. De Klerk tried to dilute the power of those complaints by extending voting by a day in some areas, including KwaZulu-Natal.
Getting out the vote seemed likely to help the ANC, which was the overwhelming choice of black voters. The only place where the tide was not expected to go the ANC’s way was in the Western Cape, where colored (mixed-race) voters—the largest demographic group in the province—overwhelmingly backed the National Party, their former oppressors. The Nationalists stripped coloreds of their voting rights and, in the 1950s and 1960s, drove them from their homes to clear land for white suburbs. Now, however, many colored voters fear black rule, an emotion that was fuelled by National Party campaign tactics that included distributing a coloring book showing blacks kicking coloreds from their homes. Said Christie Rhode, 67, of Steenberg near Cape Town: “We know that the Nationalists have the experience and they have changed. Mandela will not be able to control his young radicals.”
The colored support for the National Party is all the more bizarre because its local candidate for provincial premier was Hernus Kriel, the once-hated law and order minister who was an avowed racist. Kriel spent part of last week shredding documents in his department office.
The widespread popularity of the National Party among coloreds underscores the depth of racism in South African politics. The ANC has tried to present itself as a nonracial party, but in the short term it is inevitable that the country’s major political parties will represent racial interests. “It will take time for blacks and whites to rally to a common South African identity,” said Peter Vundla, a black advertising executive in Johannesburg. “We need common symbols, common sports stars, common artists we can rally around, and those things
Nelson Mandela’s heartfelt appeal for an amnesty on old scores seemed to work wonders
take time to develop. But they will come.” Despite the bombs and the predictable accusations of voting fraud, last week was a moment of relative calm in South Africa’s turbulent history. The election showed that there was much to be optimistic about. No, the sinister township wars will not end overnight Yes, the white extremists will continue to sulk, and sullenly threaten to create havoc. What was remarkable last week, however, was the absence of racial hostility or talk of black revenge. “Personally, I would feel more revenge and hatred,” said Richard Goldstone, the white judge who led a high-profile investigation into the arming of Inkatha and ANC fighters by rogue elements of the white government. “It is miraculous that they don’t” Mandela’s heartfelt appeal for an amnesty on old scores seemed to work last week. At times his style borders on autocratic, but he has always emphasized consensus as the preferred path. He has succeeded because of his willingness to play the long game, to talk to his enemies and reason them into changing. It worked with de Klerk, who eventually freed him and abandoned apartheid. More recently, it convinced Buthelezi to participate in an election that once seemed to promise only
bloodshed. Mandela has also met with the white extremist leaders, and he insists that “dialogue, persuasion, criticism, not coercion,” is the best weapon against them. In his best moments, Mandela is not a populist playing to people’s fears, but a leader appealing to their capacity to dream. ‘What does a man want?” Mlamuli Mathews asked rhetorically,
sipping beer behind the stage of an ANC rally as Zulu dancers and musicians worked up a Durban crowd earlier this month. “He wants to eat He wants to have a nice house. And he wants to live in peace.” Amen.
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