To our parents, the 27th of April 1994 was current affairs but to us it is history. Born-frees and anyone of us who was a toddler at the time has seen countless documentaries about the fall of apartheid and the ‘euphoria of 1994’.
But what was it like to stand in a line for hours on end, to mark off the name of a party when they previously never having the right to do so? The Open Journal asked four UJ academics to give their account of voting and even watching the event unfold from other parts of the world.
Prof Jane Duncan, Journalism lecturer
…even the sceptics were caught up in the excitement of the day.
“I was voting with my husband in Yeoville and it was fabulous because there was an incredible spirit on the streets. It was just fascinating, meeting people and listening to what they had to say about their expectations of the day just in the park where the voting took place.”
“We queued, for I think it was about seven hours, but nobody minded because it was just a huge event. You met new people and got to know them and you formed friendships in the line.
The spirit was great and we hardly even noticed in fact that we were queuing for seven hours because it was just like an outing for the day. I just remember the way that the queue snaked all the way around the park and then all the way around the outside of the park as well because there were so many people who were voting,” she remembers.
After the voting, which was more of an event, Duncan remembers spending time with other voters. “There was a very popular drinking hole, kind of a local spot in Yeoville called Times Square, I remember people sat until the middle of the night just discussing how seismic this particular day was,” she remembered.
Some voters took it all with a pinch of salt but they still made their mark that day. “Nevertheless I think that even the sceptics were caught up in the excitement of the day. I think that the nature of the event just transcended any sober-minded analyses of the politics of the process of voting.”
“The ballot paper was incredibly long. There were huge numbers of parties that chose to run. Back then, the parties didn’t have to pay a registration fee; so it was extremely easy to get on the ballot paper. Parties such as the Soccer Party and the KISS party, the Keep it Straight and Simple party, could be seen on the ballot paper. Ballot papers were kept as memoirs.”
“They were laminated and if people were aware of the importance of the moment they kept them for prosperity because extra ballot papers were sold off as souvenirs. People gave them as gifts to one another and framed them as well,” she said with a smile.
Prof Dumisani Moyo, HOD of Journalism, Film and Television
…we are the countries that are in the front line facing South Africa, facing to push out the last of the colonialists.
In the 90s Dumisani Moyo was teaching literature at a Zimbabwean high school. “South Africa was already so much on the minds of most Zimbabweans,” he said. “Zimbabwe was one of those frontline states and the liberation of South Africa was sort of the last hurdle that everybody was looking forward to. This was a global phenomenon, the global excitement really ignited a lot of joy and celebration across the continent to say ‘finally we have reached the last milestone’.”
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) stood firm against apartheid. It was a way of saying that, “we are the countries that are in the front line facing South Africa, facing to push out the last of the colonialists.”
Moyo explained how the SADC countries were excited by [the] transformation in South Africa. “It was a moment of huge celebration that finally we have achieved the goal of liberation and the goal of the total liberation of the continent.”
It’s only been 23 years and that is exactly why these memories are still fresh in the hearts and minds of our parents. Perhaps in terms of transitioning a previously segregated society into an integrated and harmonious one, 23 years is the equivalent of 23 minutes.
Prof Salim Vally, Director of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation
…that energy that creativity that people wanted to promote after that particular day has come to nought it has been squandered.
“For me like millions of my compatriots, the 27th of April 1994, was a day filled with exhilaration, expectation [and] joy.”
Vally was a member of the South African Students Movement (SASM), the high school wing of SASSO (SASO) a black consciousness organisation to which Steve Biko was a member. The organisation sparked off the 1976 uprising and was banned after the murder of Steve Biko.
Many of Vally’s friends and colleagues became freedom fighters. His activism had landed him in prison at one point. “So of course, given apartheid, given colonialism and given the lack of basic democratic rights, we looked forward to the 27th of April with great expectation. I must say that most of us were extremely disappointed,” “It was an incredible day, a day that I would not have missed for anything. For many people, it was a culmination of many years of struggle and of course,; these were long lines and ample opportunities to speak, people queued for many, many hours but there was joy,; there were really positive feelings. And it’s such a pity that that energy that creativity that people wanted to promote after that particular day has come to not nought it has been squandered.”
Thea de Wet, Director of Centre for Academic Technologies (CAT)
So that day stands out to me as that carnage; there was blood everywhere and my mum screaming like someone who’s just witnessed a murder and then the contrast of the hopefulness and the joy of voting that first day.
On the 27th of April 1994, Thea de Wet and her three sisters went to their local voting station in Adendorp near Graff Reinet where they had volunteered to work. “Everybody came to vote in the tiny little town hall, so they had voting stations there.”
Thea remembers how that same morning a tame springbok that her mother had been sheltering had been killed by a pack of dogs the night before.
“I will never forget it, my mum ran from that place screaming, I thought somebody had died. So that day stands out to me as that carnage; [there] was blood everywhere and my mum screaming like someone who’s just witnessed a murder and then the contrast of the hopefulness and the joy of voting that first day.”
“All the political parties had observers to make sure that there was no cheating; that all the procedures were followed and there were very strict rules to follow,” she remembered.
“We were told not to help anybody and if there were some older people that couldn’t read, which was not that uncommon at that time, that we could help them but then there needed to be several people present and then you could explain to the person what the different parties were.”
One young man, in particular, stood out to her. “I can see his face now in front of me. And I’ve wondered years later what happened to this guy. He was very young I think he was probably just 18, but he was an observer. He was a PAC observer and he wanted to make sure that all of us toe the line,” she recounted.
And if we take into account the more than 300 years of oppression that preceded the 46-year apartheid regime, then maybe, it’s only been a few seconds. But is it truly laughable to expect such radical change in such a short space of time? Find out in the second part of this Freedom day series.