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Blacks Prepare to Cast Their Ballots

Voter-education classes give South Africa's majority population training for the April election

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ALINA MASOLANE, the daughter of a farmworker near this conservative Orange Free State town, reflects the excitement and sanctity with which black South Africans are approaching the country's first all-race elections in April.

``I will be voting for the first time on April 27,'' Ms. Masolane says, radiating a sense of pride and anticipation of the empowerment her vote will bring.

Masolane is one of some 16.2-million black South Africans who are eligible to vote for the first time in a country that has been dominated for 340 years by a white minority who represent 16 percent (3.8 million) of voters.

Black South Africans, who represent some 72 percent of the country's 22.5-million eligible voters, know that they will determine the outcome of the election.

According to opinion polls conducted by independent pollsters, the African National Congress (ANC), the country's oldest black liberation movement, stands to gain around 60 percent of the vote.

For these millions of black South Africans, voting marks their entry into democratic society. It is a liberation election that symbolizes the end of white rule.

But there are growing concerns about the implications of a boycott by significant parties like the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the right-wing Conservative Party.

Many fear a boycott could raise already high levels of violence and intimidation to the point where large numbers of black voters could stay away from the polls.

The massacre of 15 black youths near the southern Natal village of Creighton (Feb. 19) occurred on the eve of the beginning of a voter-education program in the area.

The ANC-supporting youths had apparently been drawn to the area by the prospect of free political activity in an area where the IFP had a strong presence. They were massacred after midnight as they slept in an abandoned house.

A visit to the northern Natal village of Eqakwini - in the heart of Zululand - revealed that the local chief recently decreed that there would be no more voter education.

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