'The good news', said the man from the US Embassy, 'is that there's lots of money for voter education. The bad news is that we hear Richard Gere and Kim Basinger are coming out to spend it.' 'It's getting like the late Sixties in Vietnam,' said his colleague. 'Last time I saw so many people working such frantic hours on politics. Didn't make a damn bit of difference there in the end. Probably won't do here, either. We had Bob Hope there, of course. We were lucky, we didn't have Jesse Jackson like we're gonna have here.' I asked how the funding worked. 'Well, Washington has this idea that democracy is something you can sorta buy. They say: will it be free and fair? If we say no, not really, they say: well how much more do we have to allocate to get it free and fair?' I was called to the phone. It was my friend, Jim, who's been election-watching down on the Natal south coast. He'd just come back from seeing the bodies of a family of nine killed at Folweni. 'They were butchered, I mean almost literally,' he said. 'Of course, neither the local Inkatha guys nor the ANC will say who did it but they obviously know. You can be sure the revenge mission has already begun. It's getting kind of heavy. Come on down for the weekend. I'll introduce you to the local killers and we can do some surfing and have a barbecue.' In Lesotho last year, I talked to an American who'd been an election-observer in Kenya, Namibia, Zambia, Angola and Pakistan. What preparations, I asked, was he making to monitor the South African election? 'Oh boy,' he groaned, 'that one. That's the eight-hundred-pound gorilla.'
LRB 28 April 1994 | PDF Download