JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Ballot by painstakingly counted ballot, Nelson Mandela is moving closer to becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
By early this morning, an estimated 30 percent of the ballots had been counted, and there was every indication that Mr. Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) would win a solid victory.
With about 6.9 million of the votes counted -- no one knows how many were cast, but it is thought to be about 20 million -- the ANC had 53 percent, well ahead of the 28.3 percent of the National Party of President F. W. de Klerk.
Pallo Jordan, chief spokesman for the ANC, predicted last night that the ANC would end up with 58 percent of the vote. Two floors below Mr. Jordan, in a downtown hotel, the ANC's victory party was going on for the second straight night. Mr. Mandela had originally been slated to show up last night, but with the returns so slow in coming, he canceled. Instead, he is expected to appear tonight.
"Since last night, we've been boogieing on the second floor of this hotel," Mr. Jordan said. "We were as disappointed as anybody at the slowness of the returns.
"But we'll boogie tonight and we'll boogie again tomorrow night. We'll boogie because we think it's about time we did."
The ballots are being counted at about 1,200 stations across the country. Each one is held up for observers from the various political parties to see as it is declared for one party and put in that pile. Then those piles are counted and re-counted.
As the returns came in at a trickle Saturday night, the Independent Electoral Commission tried to streamline the process by eliminating a requirement that the ballots in the boxes be counted to make sure that number agreed with the ballots handed out.
But that did little to speed up the results. The bulk of the returns from several troubled counting stations near large cities, such as Johannesburg and Durban, are expected to flow in this afternoon.
There is something of a deadline to the process as the new Parliament is scheduled to convene on Friday to choose a new president who is to be inaugurated on May 10. Before that, the Independent Electoral Commission has to declare the election free and fair, something that, despite all the complaints from almost every party, is now considered simply a formality.
While the results and projections certainly represent a landslide by U.S. standards, they still put the ANC far below the two-thirds figure needed to write the country's permanent constitution without interference from other parties.
Adding to the frustration of the slow returns is the fact that it is really impossible to make reliable projections based on the numbers supplied by the Independent Electoral Commission because there are no indications of which polling stations have been counted.
With South African living and voting patterns divided along racial lines, getting results from one side of that line or another could distort the percentages.
But, as the totals crept up, the numbers began to reveal a few trends. For one, it is clear that right-wing whites rejected the call to boycott the election and instead turned out for the Freedom Front of Constand Viljoen, which was the third highest vote-getter until late last night, when Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party and the Democratic Party nudged past. Inkatha had 7 percent, the Democratic Party 5.6 percent, and the Front 3.3 percent.
As for Inkatha, while it is not making an impressive national showing, it is running strongly in its home region of KwaZulu/Natal, taking a clear lead over the ANC in early returns. But, again, only a small percentage of the votes had been counted and, with the region divided into clearly demarcated ANC and Inkatha areas, proper analysis depends on knowing whose strongholds are included in the tally.
National Party's showing
As expected, the National Party appears to be a clear winner in one region, the Western Cape, which includes Cape Town. The majority of voters there are in the mixed-race "colored" population, the only one of the country's nine new provinces without a black majority.
Those colored voters went heavily for the National Party, which rather blatantly ran what is termed here a "gewaarswart" campaign, an Afrikaans term for "beware of the blacks."
Those tactics did not seem to be as successful in the rural Northern Cape area where there is also a large colored block that gave a substantial percentage to the ANC, probably enough to give the ANC a close victory in that province.
"Of course we are disappointed," said Zach de Beer, leader of the traditionally white liberal anti-apartheid Democratic Party. "But at last we have a democratic election, so we are not going to whine about the results."
Under the country's new interim constitution, which sets up a "government of national unity," every party that gets 5 percent of the vote gets a seat in the Cabinet.
There is a chance that the only parties meeting that threshold will be the ANC and the National Party, although there is a possibility that the leaders of smaller parties will be invited to zTC join, perhaps including Chief Buthelezi.
"We would not necessarily exclude Inkatha from a position in the government of national unity even though their performance does not live up to constitutional requirements," Mr. Jordan said.