January 28, 2004

Electoral rolls boosted by registration drives / Parties meet to soothe Kwazulu-Natal



Concerns over voter apathy appeared to have been allayed after 1.3 million eligible South Africans turned out at the weekend to add their names to the electoral rolls ahead of general elections scheduled for later this year. "The second registration drive proved very successful and we are pleased with the turnout, which surpassed all expectations," Pansy Tlakula, chief electoral officer of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), said. The campaign was aimed at people who had never registered as voters, and those who had moved from one voting district to another. During the first registration drive in November last year only around three percent of the estimated
numbers of potential but unregistered voters were entered on the voters' roll.
In the meantime, a few Zulu opponents wielding spears and shields confronted South African President Thabo Mbeki as he kicked off a three-day tour in and around KwaZulu-Natal. Mbeki was in the province as part of an ongoing Imbizo programme of "interactive government" designed to bring those in power in contact with the people to discuss policies. More than 50 opposition supporters, many wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the portrait of veteran IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, surged forward as Mbeki's convoy approached a tent where he was to meet local people at the small town of Tugela Ferry. Addressing a couple of thousand people inside the tent, Mbeki acknowledged past problems between his ANC and Buthelezi's IFP and stressed the need for tolerance to ensure people were able to vote freely without intimidation. "During the elections the two parties must agree that they will work in such a way that the people in KwaZulu-Natal are able to vote for any party without fear of being intimidated," Mbeki said.

The threat of political violence in KwaZulu-Natal has also forced party leaders to reactivate their peace negotiating teams. The parties want to re-engineer the co-operative spirit forged after the first democratic elections in 1994. The political marriage has survived despite provincial leaders accusing each other of causing the deaths of thousands of their supporters during the struggle against apartheid. Hence, deputy-President Jacob Zuma, who was instrumental in the peace that was achieved after the 1994 democratic elections, was back in KwaZulu-Natal to lead the ANC's negotiating team in talks with an IFP delegation, led by its national chairman and KwaZulu-Natal premier Lionel Mtshali. (IRIN/Business Day, Johannesburg)

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