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South Africans Register To Vote

November 27, 1998

SOWETO, South Africa (AP) _ Election officials pressed ahead Friday with creating the first voter roll to include South Africans of all races, despite confusion so pervasive that even President Nelson Mandela registered at the wrong site.

South Africans lined up at schools, churches and other sites to register for the 1999 election, the first since the 1994 all-race balloting that marked the end of apartheid.

In Soweto, a sprawling black township and the scene of frequent uprisings against white rule, about 50 men and women sat quietly in a classroom at a rundown school, awaiting their turn to register. Some waited as long as six hours.

As a woman with a baby bound to her back by a blanket stood up to register, one man murmured: ``We don’t mind waiting. For us, it is important to vote.″

It was only on Friday that many of the 12.7 million potential voters in the northern section of the country learned which registration site they should go to.

Instructions were often vague and many sites didn’t open because civil servants who were supposed to staff them failed to appear.

Controversy over the registration has grown steadily because as many as 5 million people are estimated to lack updated identification documents containing a computer bar code that are needed to register and vote.

Most of those lacking the proper documents are white, because blacks rushed to update their identification cards after the collapse of apartheid.

Problems with preparations forced the government to delay registration for half of the country. The southern half of the country registers on Dec. 4-6.

``The chaotic start of the registration process poses a serious threat to a free and fair election,″ said the National Party, which ruled during apartheid.

Mandela went to an elementary school in Johannesburg and duly registered in front of photographers. Later, however, he was told the Independent Electoral Commission had directed him to the wrong place, said Thabo Masebe, spokesman for the ruling African National Congress.

Mandela would register again ``at his earliest possible convenience,″ Masebe said.

There was less patience in a community center in the integrated, run-down Johannesburg neighborhood of Yeoville, where dozens of people were turned away after being told they were in the wrong place.

``I’m so sick of the muddle and disorganization of the bloody ANC government,″ complained Barbara Durlacher, a 65-year-old white who was told she was at the wrong site in Yeoville.

Election commission chairman Johann Kriegler acknowledged the problems.

``It’s an immensely complicated exercise,″ he said. ``We’ll patch it up. We’ll make it good before we’re finished with it.″

Elections are likely to take place next May. No date has been set.

Mandela beckoned whites to join the ANC and abandon the National Party that turned South Africa into ``the world’s polecat″ because of its apartheid policies.

He told a Foreign Correspondents Association dinner Thursday night that the ANC needed a two-thirds majority in parliament ``to ensure that we are not interfered with by Mickey Mouse parties who have no commitment to democracy.″ The majority would allow the party to independently pass legislation.

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