Friday, April 27, 2007

Freedom Day in South Africa

I was there. There for the first free elections in South Africa. I spent the day praying in the Cathedral and it was my very great privilege to bear the chalice at Mass that morning. What a wonder it was to give communion to people about to vote for the very first time in their lives.

My dear friend, Liz Pringle, has sent this piece about what it was like for her:

On this day 13 years ago, I stood for about two hours in a queue of people, all of whom were out to cast their first vote ever in a truly democratic election in our beloved homeland.

The polling station I was at, the nearest one to my home, so I was able to walk there and back and not worry about finding parking, was not as busy as some of those in the more heavily populated areas. At least ¾ of my suburb is zoned for commercial and industrial use, so the number of people residing here, and therefore voting here, was much smaller than the number of people voting at polling stations in purely residential areas.

There were pictures in the papers the next day of queues of voters winding kilometres long, each patiently awaiting his or her turn to vote. For the first time in our history, in our up-market suburbs, wealthy home-owners, their domestic workers and gardeners, as well as the local hobos and street people all queued together as equals for something as important as our first truly democratic election.

There were reports in the paper of the camaraderie that developed in these queues as people waited for up to 6 or 8 hours before it was their turn to vote; of the well-heeled lady who left her domestic worker to keep her place in the queue while she went home and made copious amounts of coffee and trays full of sandwiches to share with the people in her part of the queue, irrespective of race or status. It was reports such as these that gave me hope for the future of my beloved land – and nothing that has happened since has caused that hope to falter.

It was a grey drizzly day, and I remember standing on the pavement in a queue that snaked right around the building, waiting to get into the Maitland Town Hall where our polling station had been set up. I was reading a Spike Milligan book while I waited – I’ve always enjoyed his whacky sense of humour – and was quite in the right mood for it that day.

The people around me were nearly all Coloured people, and, as new people joined the queue, we greeted one another warmly. The mood was one of happiness & profound gratitude as we experienced ourselves for the first time as full citizens of the same country, no longer divided by the colour of our skin.

I remember a contingent of police driving by in an armoured vehicle – the kind they used to use when they went into the townships in the bad old days to put down protest action with military-style force and violence. Only today, the roof was off the top and the policemen were relaxedly sitting there, smiling and laughing, and waving to the crowd of prospective voters. They no longer had to hide in the belly of the armoured vehicle for fear of being hit by a rock or a brick thrown by an angry protester. No one in the queue needed to fear their arrival on the scene any longer. That was an “ah – ha” moment for me: we had made it. The New South Africa was actually in the process of being born.

I cannot begin to describe to you the excitement and joy I felt as I stood in the queue that day. Suddenly my white skin was no longer relevant. No longer did I have to feel ashamed of being white because of what the oppressive white regime was doing to my fellow South Africans. I was free to be me – free to be proud of being me. What a glorious awareness of my own personal liberation !!!!!

And who did I vote for ? Suffice it to say that I wanted Nelson Mandela to be president of my country more than anything I had ever wanted before, and I wanted to be part of the mass of South Africans who would all be voting for the ANC on that day for that very same reason !!!!!!


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