Voters reshaped South Africa Wednesday, putting blacks in charge of cities and towns that had once been white preserves.
It was the first time South Africa has had local elections with all the country’s races taking part and only the second time blacks have been allowed to vote.
The first, in April 1994, brought President Nelson Mandela to power and ended white minority rule at the national level. But at the local level there were still no black elected officials, although some black mayors had been appointed as transitional leaders.
“This is the completion of the democratic process that we began” last year, Mandela said on a visit to a polling station in the Atteridgeville black township outside Pretoria.
Voting for almost 700 local and rural councils was marred in some areas by improper ballots, late officials and even a hungry elephant. Some people went to the wrong polling stations or found their names were not on the registration lists, slowing the process and provoking angry confrontations.
Election officials expressed satisfaction with the voting, calling it generally smoother than the problem-plagued national vote last year. But in some areas, long lines formed outside the polling places and the slow pace meant voting continued well after polls were to have closed.
“I want to live in a safe place, to be comfortable. To have a house, a street,” said Winnie Cebu, a student living in a squatter camp south of Johannesburg.
Cebu arrived armed with a blanket, a tin pot of coffee and a deck of cards three hours before polls opened. Still, she was far from first in line.
Results were expected today but there was little doubt the winners would be with few exceptions black - if only because most of the candidates are black.
Elias Maluleke was pleased several candidates running for his community council in Johannesburg were neighbors.
“I’ve met them, I’ve sat and discussed with them. I know what they want out of life,” said Maluleke, who is black.
Tommy Swanepoel, a white retired policeman, feared white conservatives would lose control in his town - Ventersdorp, the headquarters of the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, west of Johannesburg.
“The biggest thing here is to make sure the white wards are still run by whites,” he said. “We already pay all the taxes here and the blacks want us to pay over there too. They think we’re all Father Christmas.”
Mandela himself didn’t vote Wednesday because he had registered in Cape Town. Disputes over districts’ boundaries postponed voting until next year in KwaZulu-Natal province and the Cape Town metropolitan area. Procedural problems also postponed balloting in some isolated rural areas, which will hold elections later this year or next year.
Going into the election, turnout had been expected to be low because of voter apathy and confusion over a dual ballot that asks people to vote for a candidate and then a party.
Many South Africans also complained Mandela’s government had failed to deliver on promises of jobs and houses made before last year’s election and questioned why they should vote again.
Voting in the remote Mhinga area, near Kruger National Park, was delayed for about an hour by a lone bull elephant eating berries and leaves near a polling place. Many people were afraid to approach the elephant for fear it would charge.