It is now 26 April 1998, and tomorrow will be the 27th (obviously, lol), a public holiday here in South Africa.
It was on this day, four years ago, that we had our first democratic general election. I remember the day very, very clearly.....I have never seen such long queues at the voting stations, and, unfortunately, I don't think we will ever see so many people turning out to vote again.
For most of you, this was just another news item on CNN, or whatever network. For us it was the most incredible experience. And also a frightening one, in many ways. Bombs were planted by the right-wing in a number of areas in the days before the election, and some people were very scared of what could happen on election day. People (lol, not me, I refused, just on general principles) stockpiled tinned food and candles and toilet paper, even....the shops were empty.
One of my favourite memories was when our campus closed for the election week (I was a student at the time). It was shortly before exams and students took large amounts of books out of the library to study and do assignments over the election period. As I stood in a long queue of students (lol, democracy was a time of queues, I think), waiting to check out my books, another student walked past, looked at the queue and exclaimed "yoyo! academic stockpiling!!!!"
My nephew, Sean, stayed with me the night before elections and stood in the queue with me...ummm I think he must have been about 10 years old at the time... the queue was very long and the sun was very hot. There were so many different types of people in the queue, from so many political backgrounds. The international monitors came down the queue and told those of us who had badges or other items showing our political affiliation to remove them. That is such a silly thing to remember, but it is one of the things i remember clearly. I can't remember exactly how long we stood in that queue but i think it was about 8 hours. I only hope that my nephew will remember some of the power i felt that day.
Of course, this is an issue that is difficult to resolve. Kids today (lol I sound like my grandmother)....well not even just kids, people up to about age 20, just have no concept of what the past was like. On the one hand that is good. Great in fact! They don't have to live in a time when singing a song could put you in prison. They cannot even conceptualise what it was like to have to make the sacrifices that people made as recently as the 1980s. But, in a sense, it is sad for them to have missed the passion that existed, the fact that people WERE willing to make those sacrifices, the absolute love for South Africa that guided so many people's actions.
Of course, I would much rather that kids grew up in South Africa today. There are things that happened that will take many generations to rid from our collective psyche, things that are too difficult even to talk of here. I only wish that they could experience the power of the last years.
Okay, that is my "preek" for the day. Silly, I know, but for me this is not just another public holiday, but a culmination of decades, even centuries, of struggle, and something intensely personal.
P.S. I just remembered something really funny. Driving in the car with my brother that evening and listening to the radio (that was another thing, that week every radio and TV was on and tuned to the election reports), and hearing the news reporter say "it is unclear as to whether the large turnout at the polls was politically motivated"!!! LMAO!!!
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