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A Mandela Mystery
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December 06, 2013, 04:15 PM
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Back in 2004 I recounted a story about Nelson Mandela`s 1994 election that I could have sworn I`d read in The Economist in the mid-to-late 1990s. But I`ve never been able to track down the article (perhaps I read it in the Financial Times instead of The Economist?), nor seen any confirmation of the events since then. So, this may be completely apocryphal. Or not.
You may vaguely recall that the first open election in South Africa in 1994 was accompanied by huge lines at the polling booths and scenes of chaos at vote-counting centers. The media predicted it might take weeks to tabulate all the ballots. Then, almost instantly, the final, official results were announced, with no one objecting that that was logistically impossible.

Several years later, The Economist explained what happened: The vote counting was indeed chaotic and looked to go on indefinitely, but early returns conclusively showed Mandela`s African National Congress winning a crushing victory that would give it the 2/3rd`s majority needed to write the new constitution all by itself. So, Mandela called together the leaders of opposition parties and told them he was rigging the results to restrict his own party to about 5/8ths of the seats so that the new constitution would require some support from other parties to pass. He also gave local control of the Cape province to the white-led party and the KwaZulu province to the Zulu party. Not surprisingly, the opposition was deeply grateful and while many within the ANC were angry, they could hardly overrule Mandela.

Did this act of statesmanship really happen? 

I don`t know. The article I read back in the day seemed very confident, and the story fit my recollection from watching the TV news (Election Day: Vote counting will take weeks. Day after Election Day: With 99.99% of precincts reporting ...). But I`ve never been able to track down what I read (and/or hallucinated).