If empty polling booths are anything to go by, a sustained pro-election publicity campaign failed to entice voters to the polls in Bophuthatswana this week.
The official results of Tuesday's "homeland' election were still unavailable yesterday evening – two days after they were scheduled to be released – but observers are predicting a derisory turnout.
One newspaper, the New Nation, estimated that only 0,6 percent of the potential electorate voted. However, Sapa reported last night that diplomatic sources in Mmabatho dismissed such reports as "nonsense", predicting the highest percentage poll in Bophuthatswana's 10 years of "independence". To this was added the rider that the poll would be high "by African standards".
Should the figures turn out to be anywhere near as low as some observers suggest, it will be a body blow for the governments of both Bophuthatswana and South Africa – "Bop" is often held up as one of the successes of the "homeland" policy. It will also constitute a telling victory for the Anti-Bop Campaign Committee, a UDF-affiliate which urged residents to boycott the elections.
When the Weekly Mail visited several areas in the Odi-Moretele district of Bophuthatswana on election day, claims of a poor turnout were supported by deserted polling booths and uninterested residents.
Early in the day, some pensioners were to be seen casting their votes. But by late afternoon – when the majority of workers returned home the polling stations remained empty. The same phenomenon occurred in the Molopo region.
At Mabopane station, a hub of commuter traffic, thousands of workers simply ignored six electoral officers standing behind polling tables. Polling stations at the Boekenhout administration offices were also virtually empty as workers alighting from busses chose to go home rather than vote.
One worker who refused to vote, Petros Makhubela of Winterveld, told the Weekly Mail: "We have seen nothing better from the Bophuthatswana government for the last 10 years, and I see no reason to vote for another 10 years of suffering. "We are called merafe (tribes) when it suits them. Now that they want our votes, we are called Bophuthatswana citizens".
Maria Maleka of Stinkwater said: "We never chose to be in Bophuthatswana; now we have to suffer for sins we never committed. If there are any benefits that people are getting from this homeland they are for the chosen few in Mafikeng and in government circles," she said.
The Anti-Bop Campaign Committee claimed in a statement to the Weekly Mail: "our people, most especially the pensioners, were forced to go to the polling stations for fear of losing their pensions. "These elections are not a reflection of the aspirations of the people." – Vusi Gunene & Shaun Johnson
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.