Blacks Prepare to Cast Their Ballots
Voter-education classes give South Africa's majority population training for the April election
(Page 4 of 4)
That is over and above the $35.2 million allocated by the US administration for the South African election since 1992. Some $16 million has gone toward voter education (see chart, left).Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Atwood makes clear that at least some of the additional $10 million could be used for more voter education and expenditure related to a switch from a single- to a double-ballot system.Albert Whitfield, the farmer who hosted the voter-education workshop attended by this reporter, is enthusiastic about the national effort to educate farm workers about the ballot.
``I think it is vital that people know what they are voting for and what the election is about,'' Mr. Whitfield says.
He is one of only a handful of farmers who will allow voter educators on his farm to teach black farm workers about the meaning of the election and democracy and how to vote.
Election seen as threat
Most of the country's 50,000 or so white farmers belong to conservative and right-wing groups and see the election as a threat to their land, culture, and the privileges they have enjoyed.
``They are suspicious of every black face,'' Xontana says.
``I think it is a terrible tragedy that so many farmers will not allow voter education to be conducted on their farms,'' Whitfield says.
Xontana says farmers who do not allow voter educators on their farms could create serious problems in the black community.
The Independent Electoral Commission has ruled that property owners do not have the right to exclude voter educators from their land, but that the time and condition of such visits must be negotiated between the parties, and five days written notice must precede any visit.
``If we are unable to reach the majority of white farms, it will be perceived by black voters as a perpetuation of white domination in the rural areas and could detract from the legitimacy and impact of the election result,'' he says.
``Whatever the official verdict, blacks will not regard the poll as free and fair if there has been this kind of discrimination.
``If the interim government which results is not generally accepted, it will have limited power to deliver,'' he adds. Intimidation and violence are the greatest obstacles to a free and fair election.
But Western diplomats and international monitors say that the international community will be prepared to certify an election result even if 15 percent of the population - in areas like Zululand and right-wing strongholds - has been prevented from voting.
The electoral law allows the IEC to excise from the overall result voting districts where violence and intimidation have prevented a free and fair vote.
When Xontana asked the farm workers what they expected from the election, their responses were not much different from those of an urban audience: freedom, peace, better education, equality, and jobs.
`I want to be free'
``Things have been improving ever since Mandela was released,'' says Jess Thatelo, a worker from a neighboring farm run by Whitfield's son, David.
Mr. Thatelo, who was born and did his schooling in Soweto, decided to return to the relative peace of life on a farm where he has been working since 1963.
Today, Thatelo earns about $120 a month. His housing and water are free, but he must pay for food, transport, and electricity (about $10 per month).
The family has a television set in its neat two-bedroom home. The Thatelos do not suffer from the violence and crime that plagues the urban townships, and unemployment is not an immediate problem for them.
Their eldest son is a driver in the Army, one daughter is married, and one is still at school.
``I think that the vote will bring a better life,'' Thatelo says. ``I want a better education for my children and a better life for myself. I want to be free.''