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Hacker almost derailed Mandela election in South Africa

Right-wing key-puncher tried to hang on to apartheid, says new book

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An unidentified voting system hacker almost derailed South Africa's first democratic elections.

Only a backup paper ballot system saved the historic 1994 election from sabotage, according to a new book from Peter Harris, the former head of the official election monitoring division. The hacking attempt involved trying to boost the count for right wing parties that wanted to retain apartheid while simultaneously swiping votes from Nelson Mandela's ANC.

The manipulation of the Election Commission computer was discovered in the early hours of the count on 3 May but the perpetrator has never been identified. The attempted electronic disruption occurred during a period of high tension and violence in the country.

"There was a right-wing conspiracy to start an armed insurrection with the help of the Defence Force," Harris said, the BBC reports, "and that resulted in a number of bombs going off to try and stop the election and cause mass panic and despair."

The April election went ahead on schedule but the result of the vote was delayed as a result of the hack attack, which was first detected by a United Nations observer. As a result the electronic count was suspended and a secondary backup manual system was brought into play, delaying the results for two days.

"The electronic count was compromised by a hacker who went in and multiplied the vote," said Mr Harris. "The electronic count was then closed down.

Nelson Mandela was ultimately declared victor of the election, a result that was "true and fair", according to Harris. ®

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