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Election-Eve Bombings Plague South Africa

By Paul Taylor
The Washington Post
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

Terrorist bombings spread to several cities Monday, the eve of South Africa's historic elections, and the country's leaders closed ranks to reassure a jittery public that it will be safe to vote.

A car bomb exploded Monday morning at a taxi stand in the predominantly black area of Germiston, just east of here, killing 10 and injuring 40, and Monday night a bomb tossed into a bar frequented by blacks in Pretoria killed two and injured 29.

On Sunday, a car bomb exploded in downtown Johannesburg, killing nine and injuring 100.

Late Monday night a man claiming to be a spokesman for a white right-wing extremist group, the Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging (BBB), telephoned a Johannesburg newspaper to claim responsibility for the Germiston blast and warn that more attacks would follow unless whites were given a separate nation so they would not have to submit to black-majority rule.

The blasts left election officials determined to conduct the vote completing South Africa's negotiated transition from apartheid to a multiracial democracy.

Balloting will begin on Tuesday for the elderly, the disabled, the infirm and for an estimated 250,000 South African citizens living abroad. The general public of some 22.7 million eligible voters is to cast ballots Wednesday and Thursday at approximately 9,000 stations around the country.

The South African Defense Force and the police are deploying more than 100,000 troops to provide security in and around polling stations. "I'm very positive and optimistic," said spokesman Gert Opperman, adding that he believed the security situation would have been far more dangerous had the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party not chosen last week to join the election. "I don't think acts of terrorism and sabotage by the right wing have the same potential to upset the election."

Although terrorist bombs are a relative novelty in South Africa, political violence is not. Since President Frederik W. de Klerk released African National Congress President Nelson Mandela from prison four years ago, more than 15,000 have died in political killings.

Most analysts doubted the attacks would significantly dampen turnout, which has been predicted to exceed 80 percent of eligible voters. There were indications from radio call-in shows and man-in-the-street interviews that it might strengthen the electorate's resolve.