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S. Africans' Votes Carry Hope for New Nation : Polling: About 30,000 emigres in the state will be able to cast absentee ballots in their homeland's historic all-race election.

April 17, 1994|JILL BETTNER and LUCILLE RENWICK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Ronald Kunene of Encino will make history April 26. So will his roommate, Sydney Skosana, their friend, Lebo Morake, and Lauretta Ngakane, who works in Burbank.

All four are black South Africans. Born in a country that excluded them, and forced into exile to pursue an education and their professions, they will vote for the first time 10 days from now in South Africa's historic all-race election.

Matured beyond their years by the hardships they have endured, these young adults speak eloquently of the joy they feel--tempered with worry for their nation's future--as they prepare to cast their absentee ballots along with 100,000 other South Africans living in the United States.

African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, the symbol of the long struggle by blacks as well as many whites against apartheid, is virtually certain to become South Africa's first black president.

"Of course, I am elated. A new nation is about to be born," said Kunene, a 31-year-old UCLA graduate student. "It's going to be a rough birth and even after the election, there will still be problems, probably for a long time.

"That's nothing new," he said. "In any birth there is a lot of pain. But out of the pain the beauty comes, the baby."

But the specter of continued political violence in South Africa concerns Skosana, a 26-year-old studying computer science at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

"Mr. Mandela is going to win the election, I am sure," Skosana said, "but he may not be able to fulfill the promises he has made to the people." Black opposition leaders "want their own land," he noted. "We won't know until after the election whether they will accept defeat. I wish they would unite and form one solid party."

For Morake, 29, the election is a watershed. "Obviously, I'm extremely excited about it. It's a new day in my country. I don't know if there is anything else to say beyond that."

Echoing that wonderment, Ngakane, who escaped from South Africa at age 10 with her family, added: "All these people are dying in South Africa and have died through history in South Africa. We all want to make sure the outcome of this election is positive.

"I wanted very much to go back home to vote. But unfortunately, my relatives who are still there are nothing but strangers to me now. It's very sad."

The South Africans living in the United States are eligible to vote if they are at least 18 years old and can prove South African citizenship. They can cast ballots at 14 polling places around the country, including the South African Consulate in Beverly Hills and at Irvine City Hall in Orange County. As many as 30,000 emigres could vote in California; groups of about 10,000 eligible voters each live in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On the same day, South Africans in 73 other countries will also help choose their nation's leaders.

Their secret ballots will be hand-carried in sealed containers to Johannesburg by South African government officials, then counted with ballots cast inside South Africa on April 26 through April 28.

To ensure that black South Africans in Los Angeles capitalize on the historic opportunity, nearly 30 voter registration advocates gathered in a West Los Angeles church Saturday to devise a strategy for getting out the vote.

In the parish hall of St. Mary's Anglican Church in Palms, members of the Coalition of South Africans in Los Angeles talked about the difficulties they have encountered while trying to register to vote at the South African Consulate.

Coalition members told of being required to produce birth certificates and other paperwork, long ago abandoned by South Africans exiles when they fled their homeland.

"Our documents are not up to date because we did not leave South Africa through the front door," said Pauline Manaka, 43, who has been active in voter registration efforts for black South Africans in Los Angeles. "We had to leave our birth certificates and our families. There should be an opportunity, for us especially, to be excused if we do not have everything we need to vote."

Voters will choose from more than 18 political parties on the ballot, not individuals. Although the ANC has a huge lead in the polls, as much as 17% of the electorate is believed to be undecided, The Times reported Friday.

Those undecided voters are not likely to derail Mandela's expected landslide victory. But they could help determine how much power South African President Frederik W. de Klerk and blacks opposed to the ANC, including rival Inkatha Freedom Party supporters, will have in the new government.

Recent bloody clashes between ANC and Inkatha members in the Natal province have left an estimated 200 people dead. Still, Morake said the parties' philosophical differences have been distorted in media accounts of the violence.

"Like any new country, there are bound to be minor conflicts, so to speak, between organizations with various opinions," Morake said.

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