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South Africa elections Thursday, 27 May, 1999, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Far from home, waiting for change
By BBC News Online's Jane Black

Philippa Andrews misses home. She came to London with her husband in 1995 from Pietermaritzburg, a farming town in the eastern province of Natal, South Africa. The trip was supposed to be a short working holiday.

But it was the couple's return in 1996 that was short-lived.

South African Elections
"We lost three friends in seven months. All were farm-related violence," she said in a phone interview from the central London advertising agency where she works.

"We didn't want to live behind high walls. We couldn't bring kids up in that environment."

Philippa Andrews is just one of the many South Africans leaving the country - for good. Although the government maintains that emigration is falling, it has voiced its indignation that young, upwardly mobile professionals like Ms Andrews are leaving for more secure environments.

Last year, President Nelson Mandela spoke out, accusing emigrants of abandoning the country as it rebuilds. This year there are fears among some South African expatriates that the government is is some way attempting to punish them by requiring all voters to register in their constituencies between November 1998 and February 1999. This in effect disenfranchises much of the South African community abroad for the country's second democratic election.

But in a series of interviews with BBC News Online in the run-up to the elections, South Africans of all races living in the UK say they would prefer to go home.

Their sense of hopelessness belies a deep concern about the future of South Africa which many of them refer to as the "best country in the world".

And if they could vote, most say they would support the ANC.

"They have taken our vote away and I'm very upset about it," said Claudia Butsch, a sales and marketing executive in London who has tried unsuccessfully to register both in South Africa and in London.

"I voted ANC in 1994 and would have voted for them again. No one has given me a straight answer about why I can't vote. I come from the most beautiful country in the world. I don't want to give it up."

Crime rampant

Ms Butsch, a South African citizen who travels on a German passport, also left because of crime.

She has two friends who have been gang raped and a knows several others who have been car-jacked. In one case, the attackers shoved an AK47 into the mouth of a friend's three-year-old child.

Crime is indeed rampant in South Africa. The country has the second highest murder rate in the world after Colombia and is the also the world's rape capital with 120 rapes per 100,000.

But perhaps more important than the crime itself is the perception that it is impossible to bring the crime rate down.

The South African Police Service reports that most types of serious crime are stabilising or decreasing yet 61% of voters cited crime as a key election issue, up from just 6% in 1994.

The South African government faces a PR war as well as a war on crime: white South Africans like Ms Butsch want to be convinced they will not become victims in the post-apartheid era. Black South Africans say the government must stop black-on-black violence before the country descends into chaos.

"Many other African countries have passed through a transition period with high levels of crime," said Rachel Boulton-Carvalho, a 30-year-old political student at Middlesex University who is half black South African, half British. "But in South Africa it's not for revenge, it's black on black. It's nonsensical."

Ms Boulton-Carvalho plans to travel back to South Africa to cast her ballot next week. Like the others interviewed, she says she will vote for the ANC.

"The country is still in transition - I can't expect the government to have already satisfied all the wants of everyday South Africans," she says.

"Even though I voted PAC in 1994, I'd rather support them because Mbeki can continue the country's journey towards economic development."

But she, in common with many of her fellow expatriates, plans to stay abroad until the country has arrived.

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