South Africa's reform referendum bares emotions


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A woman ran out of the South African Airlines office in downtown Johannesburg Tuesday, but the black traffic policeman had already hitched the tow truck to her car.

'Please don't tow me away,' she called. 'Please, please, I need the car.'


The cop looked up, but kept on writing out the ticket.

'I'm voting yes,' she said.

There was a pause. He looked at her. Then to loud applause from white businessmen all around, the officer methodically tore up the citation, unhooked the tow truck, smiled and drove away.

The woman's yes vote in a whites-only referendum would be to support President Frederik de Klerk's racial reforms that eventually could lead to black-majority rule in a nation where whites are outnumbered by more than five to one.

And while African National Congress leaders and others resent the fact that, two years after beginning reform, de Klerk still is holding a whites-only referendum, there was no doubt where black sympathies lay.


They, along with millions of mixed-race people and Asians, were willing the white populace to vote yes on the ballot question: 'Do you support the continuation of the reform process which the state president began on Feb. 2, 1990, and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiations?'

De Klerk, his National Party and his allies in the Democratic Party have said a no vote is a vote for civil war in South Africa because right-wing attempts to reimpose apartheid would bring chaos and international sanctions on a scale never seen before.

In the white working-class Johannesburg suburb of Buzuidenhout Valley, a woman in her early 40s, had ended her indecision, but looked a bit worried by her choice as she spoke outside the Bezuidenhout Valley polling station.

'I voted yes,' said the woman who wore a red velvet dress despite the oppressive heat. 'Before I came here I was decided on voting 'no'.' She said she changed her mind because 'I'm a grandmother. I did it for my grandchildren. I've got five. I've got to think of their future.'

Another voter was less troubled by her choice. 'I voted 'yes' because there's no going back, is there?' said Lee Dickhart, a woman in her late 50s. 'I just wish they would hurry up and finish the negotiations.'


The National Party and 18 other political groups, including Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, have been negotiating since December on mechanisms to move South Africa from a white-dominated to a black majority government.

'If I don't vote no then the communists will take over and then the blacks will take everything and the whites will lose everything,' said one woman who also would not give her name at the Kensington polling station in eastern Johannesburg.

In Brixton, west of the city, right-wingers lined up at 6:30 a.m. to say prayers and read from the Bible ahead of a long day's canvassing for a no vote.

The Conservative Party, arguing that radical elements in the ANC are poised to turn South Africa into a Stalinist state, says it does not seek a reimposition of apartheid, but a partition of the country.

'We don't want to go back on that track,' said Conservative campaigner Bert Nell, wearing a T-shirt reading 'Be Happy' and watching a stream of voters enter the Bezuidenhout Valley polling booth. 'If the 'yes' vote wins we will be separated again, in five years, 10, even 70 like in Russia.'

'We don't want to put back the apartheid rules,' Nell said. 'That's something of the past. Of course there's some rules you must put, for your own safety and for your area.'


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