By MICHAEL O. ALLEN and GENE MUSTAIN, Daily News Staff Writers | Thursday, April 28, 1994
JOHANNESBURG—Their freedom finally at hand, millions upon jubilant millions of blacks voted for the first time yesterday and began sending the last colonial outpost on the Africa continent into the history books.
On an epic day of stirring images across South Africa, the newly enfranchised experienced the joy of democracy—and discovered that democracy is not always easy or pretty.
The turnout was so great the nation’s election machinery—assembled only four months ago—broke down at numerous points, prompting much controversy and raising the chances of a disputed outcome and renewed strife.
Most of the breakdowns occurred in the distribution of ballots—not enough in urban areas, too many in the countryside—and election officials began printing 5 million more ballots for today’s last day of voting.
Trying to defuse the crisis and assure everyone the opportunity to vote, officials declared today another national holiday and vowed to keep the polls as long as voters are in line.
“Every effort is being made,” President F. W. de Klerk said. “This election is the most historical event in the history of South Africa. We must make it a success.”
The most severe logistical problems occurred in the Zulu homeland of KwaZulu in Natal and were related to the last-minute decision by the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party to participate in the election.
Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi threatened to withdraw from the second day of voting because “we are very doubtful whether the election can be declared free and fair.”
With Buthelezi out of the election, the country would once again be staring at the prospect of civil war, no matter how convincing a mandate Nelson Mandela and the Africa National Congress achieve in the rest of the nation.
Both de Klerk and Mandela were confident that logistical problems can be overcome and rejected suggestions that voting be extended through Friday.
“Let’s finish it now,” de Klerk said. “If we cannot have a 100% perfect election, let’s have a 95% or a 96%. There are ample procedures for challenging the election afterward.”
The controversy gathered steam through an otherwise glorious day of liberation that saw the raising of a new national flag, the adoption of a new national anthem and interim constitution—and countless poignant scenes of blacks voting for the first time, and whites celebrating with them.
From the Cape of Good Hope to the high veld of the Orange Free State, blacks rose early and trooped to the polls in overwhelming numbers—prompting suggestions that the country has far more citizens than its census of 40 million shows.
In rural areas, many blacks walked 10 miles to get to the polls. Some who are disabled were carted into polls in wheelbarrows. Amid much joy and many tears, almost all endured hours of waiting.
“My hope now that I am able to vote is that I will be able to live without any barriers in front of me,” said Crosby Mokeona, while standing in line at a Soweto polling station.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” said Bongi Mojanaqa. “I am going to have to write about it in my diary. April 27. The day I voted.”