Blacks Prepare to Cast Their Ballots
Voter-education classes give South Africa's majority population training for the April election
VILJOENSKROON, SOUTH AFRICA
ALINA MASOLANE, the daughter of a farmworker near this conservative Orange Free State town, reflects the excitement and sanctity with which black South Africans are approaching the country's first all-race elections in April.Skip to next paragraph
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``I will be voting for the first time on April 27,'' Ms. Masolane says, radiating a sense of pride and anticipation of the empowerment her vote will bring.
Masolane is one of some 16.2-million black South Africans who are eligible to vote for the first time in a country that has been dominated for 340 years by a white minority who represent 16 percent (3.8 million) of voters.
Black South Africans, who represent some 72 percent of the country's 22.5-million eligible voters, know that they will determine the outcome of the election.
According to opinion polls conducted by independent pollsters, the African National Congress (ANC), the country's oldest black liberation movement, stands to gain around 60 percent of the vote.
For these millions of black South Africans, voting marks their entry into democratic society. It is a liberation election that symbolizes the end of white rule.
But there are growing concerns about the implications of a boycott by significant parties like the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the right-wing Conservative Party.
Many fear a boycott could raise already high levels of violence and intimidation to the point where large numbers of black voters could stay away from the polls.
The massacre of 15 black youths near the southern Natal village of Creighton (Feb. 19) occurred on the eve of the beginning of a voter-education program in the area.
The ANC-supporting youths had apparently been drawn to the area by the prospect of free political activity in an area where the IFP had a strong presence. They were massacred after midnight as they slept in an abandoned house.
A visit to the northern Natal village of Eqakwini - in the heart of Zululand - revealed that the local chief recently decreed that there would be no more voter education.
Frightened members of the community disclosed that they had been told not to vote and had been warned that people from the ANC would come to kill them on election day, but their chief would protect them.
Masolane is sitting on a tiny wooden bench in the cluttered but comfortable school building on the farm of Albert Whitfield, a cattle and corn farmer whose English ancestors arrived in South Africa in the 19th century.
She has just emerged from a three-hour voter-education session with 140 other farm workers and their relatives.
The session culminated with a mock vote that took participants through all the steps of voting, including producing their identity documents, having them stamped, having their thumbs marked with ultra-violet-sensitive ink - so people cannot vote twice - and, finally, the sacred marking of the ballot paper to indicate the party of their choice.
A massive voter-education project, aimed primarily at an estimated 9.5 million illiterate voters on farms and in rural areas, is striving to ensure that the transfer of political power to the black majority in South Africa is accompanied by economic empowerment and the development of a culture of democracy.
The voter-education program is the core of the campaign to ensure that the elections are free and fair in a country where the white minority has a long tradition of voting.
One of the toughest tasks for educators is to persuade people who have been subjected to repression in the name of apartheid that their vote will be secret.
``Convincing people of the secrecy of the ballot is our most powerful weapon in countering intimidation,'' one educator says.