Blacks Prepare to Cast Their Ballots
Voter-education classes give South Africa's majority population training for the April election
(Page 2 of 4)
Voter education, an unknown concept in the country three years ago, has erupted at every level of South African life.Skip to next paragraph
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Mobile video units, street-theater groups, and rock groups singing out the message of democracy traverse the country.
Prophets of the City, a Cape Town-based rap group, scored a nationwide hit with their Rapping for Democracy tour.
Half-hour television and radio programs on voter education are slotted between soap operas and evening news bulletins, and prominent South Africans lend their names to the voter-education program of the Democracy Education Broadcasting Initiative.Like many black South Africans, Masolane has had to fight for an education and realizes the significance of the ballot as the first step to making education a right for all South Africans.
Because of the lack of availability of schools in the area when she reached school-going age and the problems that accompany poverty and deprivation, Masolane, now 22, has only just entered high school in the township of Rammalutsi about 12 miles away.
Not enough support
Like many black women, she became a mother in her mid-teens, which disrupted her schooling for several years while she reared her child.
Now she battles to find enough money to support herself in the township in order to attend school there during the week.
``My parents are earning peanuts, and the money they give me is not enough to support myself for a month,'' Masolane says.
When she completes her schooling, she wants to become a social worker so she can help others like herself overcome the social problems that disadvantage many black South Africans.
She says she believes the elections will be a massive step toward economic empowerment and development of the black community.
``I started to hope that there would be elections when leaders of the different races came together to negotiate,'' she says.
Degree of enthusiasm
Not all black South Africans share the awe in which Masolane holds the act of voting.
``Here in the rural areas, one finds a degree of enthusiasm and awe which is not always present in the towns and cities,'' says instructor Sam Xontana, a Baptist minister who travels vast distances in the rural northwest region to explain the April ballot.
The Rev. Xontana is an educator employed by Matla Trust, an organization initiated by the ANC following the release of its jailed leader, Nelson Mandela, in February 1990.
Matla - the Sotho word for empowerment - seeks to promote the development of democracy and socioeconomic uplift.
It has provided a training program for voter educators nationwide and coordinated workshops that have already reached more than a million people and involved tens of thousands of educators from some 500 organizations - including development agencies, political parties, trade unions, schools, universities, and community organizations.
Along with Project Vote, a joint initiative of the Election Support Project funded jointly by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C., Matla is the biggest voter-education group in the country.
``I would estimate that upwards of 3 million people have already been reached directly by voter-education programs and many more through radio and television programs,'' says the NDI's Patricia Kiefer, who is based in Johannesburg to coordinate voter education.
``In several ways, South Africa offers unique opportunities for voter education,'' she says.
``Firstly, there is the time factor. We have had three years to prepare for this election, compared with about six months in most other [African] countries,'' Ms. Kiefer says.