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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 10:15 GMT


World: Africa

South African elections on the Web



By BBC News Online's Justin Pearce

South Africa woke up to democracy just as the world was waking up to the Internet. In 1994, a new government took control of a country where many people still lacked electricity, let alone computers and modems.

But for South Africa's journalists, researchers and policy makers, the Web has quickly become a vital tool for sharing the ideas which have proliferated at a time of profound social change - and in a climate of free speech that was barely imaginable a decade ago.

The contenders

All the major parties - and most of the minor ones - contesting the 1999 elections have a Web presence where you can read up on their principles and promises:

African Christian Democratic Party
African National Congress
Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging (Afrikaner Unity Movement)
Azanian People's Organisation
Democratic Party
Federal Alliance
Inkatha Freedom Party
New National Party
Pan Africanist Congress
United Democratic Movement
Vryheidsfront (Freedom Front)

Other political bodies not contesting the election include:

Congress of South African Trade Unions
Conservative Party
Herstigte Nasionale Party (Refounded National Party)
South African Communist Party
Vukuzenzele Sekusile Party

Mbeki and Mandela


[ image:  ]
Thabo Mbeki, the man most likely to be South Africa's next president, has so far maintained a modest public profile. You can find out more about him from the ANC's Thabo Mbeki profile, and from his official CV. Selected speeches and writings by Mr Mbeki also give an insight into his thinking.

But during this election, just as many eyes will be on the man who is leaving office - Nelson Mandela. The Long Walk to Freedom site offers extracts and photographs from Mr Mandela's autobiography.

The ANC's Mandela Page collects together writings by and about the great statesman. Mr Mandela's official CV provides a more concise overview of his life and achievements.

Running the election


[ image:  ]
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is charged with the not inconsiderable task of running the election without fear or favour.

But for official information about the elections, the Elections section of the South African Government site is more useful than the rather dry IEC offering.

The most comprehensive coverage of election-related matters is offered by the Electoral Institute of South Africa, an independent organisation.

The Government


[ image:  ]
A coherent and detailed introduction - from the government's point of view, of course - to how South Africa is governed can be found at South Africa Government Online .

It takes you to information on the system of government, and the full text of the South African constitution.

It also provides links to the websites of various government departments and to the South African Parliament .

The media

The ever-popular Sunday Times offers big national stories each weekend, and is also publishing an Election Page.

The Star provides a comprehensive daily round-up of national news.

The Mail & Guardian offers a dose of exposť and political analysis every Friday - the rest of the week, it provides a constantly-updated news service on South Africa and its neighbours, as well as an excellent collection of Internet links on South Africa and the rest of the continent. The M&G is also running a Vote 99 special report.

The sober Business Day is the best source for South African financial news, and also offers an Elections Page.

News24.com is another source of general news linked to the Naspers newspaper empire, which also offers its own Elections Page .

For a focus on the volatile province of KwaZulu-Natal, try the Natal Witness, a long-established independent newspaper now on the Web.

And the Institute for Democracy in South Africa is conducting a series of opinion polls and publishing the results on its Opinion '99 Web site.

The bigger picture


[ image:  ]
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission last year published the results of its inquiry into South Africa's shady past - its investigations continue, as does its presence on the Web.

Idasa is a research organisation which acts as a watchdog to South Africa's young democracy. The most useful part of Idasa's site is the Newsletters section, which contains the results of research into policy and performance by all levels of government.

The Sangonet (South African Non-Governmental Organisation Network) homepage provides links to organisations working in development, human rights, women's issues, culture, environmental issues - just about anything that NGOs do.

A section of the government site provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the history and culture of the country and its regions.

Crime and violence

South Africa's staggering crime rate is an ongoing cause for concern, and the South African Crime Research Guide is a good jumping-off point for information on the issue.

South African Communities Organising for Public Safety has links to community anti-crime initiatives, while the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, offers a selection of academic research papers on criminal and other violence.

Education


[ image:  ]
The continuing inequalities of the education system are likely to dog future governments. For a blackboard-level view, you can't do much better than The Teacher - a lively and independent monthly journal.

Resources on South African Higher Education pulls together research on university and technical college education.

Last laugh

Years of hard-line government followed by an almost surreal rate of socio-political transformation have convinced many South Africans that a sense of humour is the best survival tool.

The last decade of apartheid was lampooned by Evita Bezuidenhout - the larger-than-life creation of satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys. Mrs Bezuidenhout has caught up with the times by launching Evita's People's Party, which recently toured the country persuading people to register to vote.

The hopes and fears of the 1990s have been documented through the eyes of Madam and Eve, in the comic strip of the same name. Madam is a do-gooder white suburban housewife, Eve her domestic-with-attitude - and their Everywoman take on current events has earned them a huge following.



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