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    Historic Election Begins in S. Africa

    By Paul Taylor
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Wednesday, April 27, 1994; Page A01

    JOHANNESBURG, APRIL 26 -- Black and white South Africans voted together for the first time today, culminating one of modern history's longest struggles against racial domination.

    The first day of the three-day election was marked by logistical snags and long lines, but there was no outburst of political violence and no terrorist bombings, such as those that claimed 21 lives earlier this week in a menacing climax to the campaign.

    Today's voting -- restricted to the elderly, the infirm, expectant mothers, prison inmates and absentees -- was the first time blacks have been able to express their will at the ballot box since the first European settlers arrived here 3 1/2 centuries ago. It also marked the official end of apartheid, the institutionalized oppression of blacks -- who make up 75 percent of the population -- by a white-minority government.

    {As voting got underway for the general public Wednesday, a bomb exploded at Johannesburg's international airport, injuring at least three people, police said. The Reuter news agency reported that the bomb went off in the international departures hall. The Associated Press reported that two people died in the blast and that another bomb exploded in a shopping mall in a white suburb.}

    At some polling stations in black areas, lines began forming at 4 a.m. At others, disabled voters were carried to the ballot boxes in wheelbarrows or litters. Countrywide, the prevailing mood seemed less one of exuberance than of quiet resolve. "I'm tired; my back is sore; I haven't eaten all day," a stoical Susan Ndhlovo, 67, told a South African reporter as she waited in a long line under a hot sun in Bloemfontein. "But I'm staying until I've voted."

    Logistical problems ran the gamut from missing ballot material to transportation breakdowns to personnel and telecommunications glitches. Independent Electoral Commission chairman Johann Kriegler said the first day had been "far from perfect, but not disastrous."

    He expressed the hope that most of the problems will disappear Wednesday and Thursday, when all of South Africa's estimated 22.7 million voters are eligible to go to the polls. But many observers expect the snags to multiply with the vastly expanded pool of voters. Today, just 700 voting stations were in use; starting Wednesday, 9,000 will be open.

    Nelson Mandela, virtually certain to become president as a result of the vote, had his eye on history today, not on numbers or logistics. "Today is a day like no other before it," he told a news conference. "Voting in our first free and fair election has begun. Today marks the dawn of our freedom."

    He urged voters not to be cowed by saboteurs and expressed confidence that the police and army would be able to maintain order at polling stations. "Standing together, let us send a message loud and clear: We will not let a handful of killers steal our democracy."

    President Frederik W. de Klerk was in an upbeat mood after accompanying his 89-year-old mother to the polls. He said the voting would "ring in a new era for South Africa, an era of reconciliation." He added his months on the campaign had convinced him that there was a "tremendous reservoir of goodwill" among the races.

    South Africa's voters will elect a 400-member National Assembly, which in turn will convene next week to select a president -- presumably Mandela, who will be inaugurated May 10, if all goes according to schedule. The voters will also elect regional parliaments in nine newly created provinces.

    Under a government of national unity that is projected to remain in office for five years, all parties will get one seat in the national cabinet for every 5 percent of the national vote received. There will be two deputy presidents. The party that finishes second in the voting is guaranteed one of these offices, and most likely it will go to de Klerk. The party that finishes first, most likely the African National Congress, will fill the other deputy presidency. This pattern of inclusiveness also extends to the national and regional parliaments, which will be chosen on a proportional representation rather than a winner-take-all basis.

    The new flag that will fly over post-apartheid South Africa was raised at midnight in ceremonies at public buildings around the country. The new banner -- a geometric composition of red, white, blue, green, gold and black -- replaces the orange, white and blue flag that has flown over the country since 1928. As it soared over a provincial administration building here tonight, a crowd of several hundred blacks and whites clapped, whistled and popped champagne corks in celebration of the dawn of a new era.

    Nearby, a choir sang "Die Stem" ("The Voice"), the old national anthem, as the tricolor symbol of white rule came down. Then it sang "Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika" (God Bless Africa), the hymn that will join "Die Stem" as the country's dual anthems.

    Of South Africa's 22.7 eligible voters, an estimated 16.3 million are black, 3.5 million are white, 2 million are mixed-race Colored and 600,000 are Indian. Some analysts have suggested that the vote is as much a racial census as it is an election. Polls indicated the ANC would receive the overwhelming majority of black votes, and the incumbent National Party the overwhelming percentage of white votes.

    One of the imponderables is which way the Coloreds and Indians will swing. They too were victims of apartheid but were treated less harshly than blacks. Another imponderable is how well Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party will fare. It only entered the election campaign a week ago after waging a long and bloody boycott over its objection to elements of the new post-apartheid constitution.

    Inkatha's late entry was one of the major causes of voting problems today. By the time it got into the race, it was too late to reprint the ballots. Instead, special stickers bearing Inkatha's name and symbols were produced to be affixed to the bottom of the ballots, making the party the 19th in the race.

    At some polling stations today, however, the ballots arrived, but the stickers did not, and any ballot cast without the Inkatha sticker on it will be considered invalid. Inkatha leaders already have called for an extension of voting beyond Thursday so that such snags can be averted; Kriegler said that would not be possible, but he suggested that polls could be kept open past their scheduled 7 p.m. closing time, if necessary.

    Some problems today had to do with the fact that not everyone realized there were restrictions on who could vote -- meaning that polling officers had to weed the healthy from the sick in many lines. In some areas, voters did not have the necessary identity documents, and steps were being taken to supply them on the spot.

    Then there was Murphy's law: A boat carrying ballots to prisoners on Robben Island -- where Mandela had spend most of his 27 years in prison -- broke down during the short trip from Cape Town. The ballots eventually were delivered by another boat.

    The question of whether prisoners should be allowed to vote was one of the most contentious of the transition negotiations, with de Klerk finally ruling Monday that all but those convicted of murder, rape and other violent crimes could have the franchise.

    "This is the first time I've ever heard of prisoners being allowed to vote," marveled Washington resident William Simons, treasurer of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. "It's amazing." Simons, who is part of an international observer team, monitored voting in a prison near here.

    Mandela disclosed today that he and de Klerk had reached agreement in principle Monday on a plan that could indemnify all persons convicted of political crimes -- whether in support of or in opposition to apartheid -- through December of last year. To qualify for indemnity, applicants will first have to disclose their crimes.

    The proposal is part of Mandela's effort to win the loyalty of the security forces -- still dominated by white generals who spent most of their careers enforcing the laws of apartheid.

    The indemnity could mean that even those rogue security agents who have helped fuel the violence in black townships in recent years can keep their jobs and pensions.

    Staff writers William Claiborne and Michelle Singletary contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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