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ANC Takes Wide Lead in S. African Vote : Elections: Mandela's party predicts landslide in local races. Blacks will finally govern at city level.

November 03, 1995|BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRETORIA, South Africa — The African National Congress appeared headed for a sweeping victory Thursday in the country's first post-apartheid local elections, with early returns indicating it had consolidated its power base and renewed its mandate to govern Africa's richest and most powerful nation.

Mohammed Valli Moosa, an ANC spokesman, predicted a "massive landslide" for the ANC when final results are tallied late today from Wednesday's elections for 701 municipal and rural district ruling councils.

The ANC had won 73 of the first 110 races counted by midafternoon Thursday. Expectations were that the ANC would win about 65% of the vote, and the rival National Party about 22%--percentages similar to those they received in the first all-race national election in April, 1994.

But Moosa said the returns indicated a "major shift" in favor of the ANC among Indian and mixed race voters in previous National Party bulwarks in the Western Cape province. The white-led National Party, headed by former President Frederik W. de Klerk, won the province during the 1994 elections.

Roelf Meyer, a National Party leader, insisted it was too early to conclude his party had suffered a setback. "It's very incorrect at this point to make any assumptions," he said.

Voting was surprisingly heavy throughout the country, with many areas reporting 60% or better turnout. The major disappointment was in Johannesburg, where only about 33% of registered voters cast ballots, due in part to apparent irregularities in voting lists. The ANC clearly won the city, however.

Overall, officials said, more than half the 12.7 million registered voters cast ballots, a rate higher than international norms in local elections. A boycott called by traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape province, angry at losing authority to democracy, appeared to fail.

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Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, head of the election task force, said the enthusiastic turnout and low level of campaign violence or intimidation "augurs well for democracy in South Africa."

How it augurs for the ANC is less clear. A major win at the local level will sharpen pressure on President Nelson Mandela's administration to step up delivery of housing, schools and other services promised to the poor. The ANC repeatedly has blamed the slow pace of construction on obstructionist tactics by white-led local authorities.

"Now there are no alibis for the ANC," said Robert Schrire, a political scientist at the University of Cape Town. "Now any non-delivery has to be laid at their door. They'll have to face the music."

Voting did not take place in metropolitan Cape Town, in about 20 rural districts and in KwaZulu-Natal province because of court challenges over the redrawing of district voting lines. Those elections have been postponed until next year.

Mandela, who had registered in a township outside Cape Town, could have voted elsewhere under the law, but chose not to cast a ballot to show support for the 4.8 million voters affected by the delayed elections.

De Klerk, on the other hand, voted twice. Under the law, voters may cast multiple ballots if they own property, pay municipal taxes or have residency in different towns.

Election officials reported numerous logistic problems and delays during the voting. Although polls officially closed at 10 p.m., several stations remained open through the night to accommodate the long lines outside.

The ANC victories mean black mayors and council members will preside over communities long ruled exclusively by whites. In Ventersdorp, a notorious right-wing stronghold about 75 miles west of Johannesburg, the ANC won five out of nine seats on the town council, one short of a legal voting majority.

Elsewhere, initial results indicated falling support for the Freedom Front, the largest of the all-white, right-wing parties. Voters apparently were turned off by the Front's failure to achieve its goals of winning greater amnesty for apartheid-era political crimes and creating a homeland for conservative Afrikaners.

Analysts said they could detect no impact on voting from the surprise prosecution of former Defense Minister Magnus Malan and 10 other senior military figures from the apartheid era. The group was arrested and arraigned Thursday in the highest-level prosecution so far of leaders from the previous regime.

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