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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Black South Africa Goes to the Polls

JOHANNESBURG -- Defying bombs and bureaucratic bungling, black South Africans voted for the first time on Tuesday in a resounding declaration that they were free at last. The old, the maimed, the sick, the jailed and the exiled strode and shuffled -- some were carried -- to polling stations across the country and abroad for the first "special day" of the three-day, all-race elections. But blunders by electoral officials completely unused to coping with large numbers of voters -- all-white elections were well-regulated affairs for no more than three million people -- marred the great day for thousands. Ballot box lids did not fit, indelible ink to prevent cheating ran out and polling booths arrived late. Some elderly voters were reported to have fainted as they waited in the heat and dust. "We were fighting for the vote and now we are waiting for the vote," grumbled Alfred, a former African National Congress guerrilla as he and his comrades waited all day in a dusty camp for voting papers to arrive. Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whose suspicions of ANC-government plotting against his party kept him out of the elections until the 11th hour, cried foul. His party said Inkatha stickers had not been added to ballot papers and thousands of members had been deprived of their rights. President F.W. de Klerk said he was worried and promised action. "We dare not deprive any South African of the right to vote," he told reporters. Overall, the excitement of putting ballot crosses on the grave of apartheid overwhelmed for most blacks what the Independent Electoral Commission called "teething problems." From Soweto to New Zealand, Uitenhage to the United States, newly enfranchised blacks flocked to join whites in raising a non-racial democracy from the ashes of apartheid, the unique form of segregation that climaxed 342 years of white domination. In Moscow, about 50 people cast ballots, a South African Embassy spokesman said, but none were black. The feelings of thousands queuing from dawn was summed up by one pensioner in miserable Katlehong township near Johannesburg. "I think my dignity has been restored," said Magdalene Kutoane, 65. Tuesday was a special voting day for some six million South Africans -- the old, the sick, prisoners convicted of all but major crimes, and citizens abroad, many of them refugees from apartheid. A total of 22.7 million people are eligible to vote, 18 million of them blacks. Other voters go to the polls Wednesday and Thursday after the birth, at midnight on Tuesday, of the new nation. The old South African flag, symbol of oppression to millions, was to be lowered in major cities then and a new constitution to take effect. A spate of bombings, blamed on white extremists making a last stand against black rule, has killed 21 people and wounded 162 since Sunday -- two in an attack on a black bar in the capital Pretoria barely 10 hours before the polls opened. De Klerk, who took his 89-year-old mother to vote in Pretoria, was jaunty. "It was my policy that there should come an end to minority rule," said the man who freed Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and began dismantling apartheid -- the basic policy plank of his National Party since 1948. Mandela joined de Klerk in condemning what the president called "the lunatic fringe to the right." "We will not let a handful of killers steal our democracy," Mandela told reporters.