First vote as free man

2014-05-07 00:00

FUSI Mofokeng became “truly free” for the first time when he cast his special elections ballot on Monday.

And although the 47-year-old was the first voter in line at Bethlehem’s Ward 19 polling station, he was actually two decades late.

Mofokeng and his friend Tshokolo Mokoena were jailed for 19 years for a crime they did not commit — the murder of a KwaZulu-Natal policeman — and had never voted as free citizens.

The pair were caught in a bizarre legal limbo, which saw them wrongly convicted in 1993 on the basis of an apartheid-era “common purpose” law, and which saw the actual killers freed with TRC amnesty deals in 1996.

The friends remained in jail until October 2011, because they refused to do what the system required to qualify for either parole or pardon: pretend they were remorseful for a crime they knew nothing about.

Mofokeng said he had been in a new kind of limbo since his release — honoured as a guest of a cabinet minister at Parliament, only to be ordered to wear an electronic tether and report to police due to his technical parolee status.

He is still awaiting his formal exoneration from the Department of Justice.

But while many South Africans won’t bother to vote in this fifth democratic election, the process is so special for Mofokeng that he spent the past two days assisting elderly and sick voters too, as a volunteer party agent for the ANC.

“It was absolutely wonderful for me — after all these years, to be a part,” he said.

However, he said the experience of seeing the “terrible poverty and ill-health and very bad nutrition” he encountered when visiting special votes voters this week “shows the challenge for the government after this election”.

The local ward councillor, Mafube Mofokeng, compared Fusi Mofokeng’s “positive embrace of the elections” to Nelson Mandela’s in 1994, after his own unjustified imprisonment.

“What impresses me especially is that Fusi does not go around saying he is the guy who was jailed for nothing for all that time — instead, he just listens to voters’ questions and explains things patiently,” said the councillor. “He is very inspiring to this community.”

Promised a “good job” and a free house by the local ANC branch, Mofokeng has been given an “okay job” as a mechanic’s assistant at the Bethlehem municipality, and has had a housing site identified, but not yet delivered.

When Mofokeng first emerged from Kroonstad prison in October 2011, he told this reporter: “I do not regret sticking with the truth, no matter the cost. I was not allowed to attend my mother’s funeral, my brother’s funeral, my father’s funeral. My birthdays, Christmases, holidays, all stolen. I am a little bit angry — my youth has been spent.”

Mokoena (52) — who also works at the municipality — married and had a baby soon after his release. He is “very excited” to cast his first vote today.

But Mofokeng, who hopes to become a motivational speaker, remains single and lives with his sister.

Having missed out on the whole of the new South Africa, Mofokeng found a unique perspective to inform his vote: “I have been shocked by the lack of jobs, and also the amount of corruption that has happened. But there have been many improvements — the clinics do a good job here in Bethlehem, and there has been delivery on houses and electricity. And I was amazed to see blacks living alongside whites in the suburb here.”

He also missed the global internet and social media revolutions, but has mastered the technologies quickly, with sites on Twitter and Facebook. Yesterday, he was able to forward pictures to an email address at The Witness from his Blackberry within minutes.

“Actually, we did not miss out on news in prison – in fact, I was more informed in prison about events, like Princes Diana’s death or September 11, than I am outside, because I am now focused on my own life,” he said.

Two years ago, he wrote to Jomo Nyambi, petitions chair of the National Council of Provinces, to complain about a corrections department order that he wear an electronic tag: “I personally take this as further humiliation and a severe torture, which is unnecessary taking into account all the suffering that one went through.”

But he said the Minister of Corrections had intervened to spare him the tagging, and the police station check-ins had also fallen away.

Now, he said, he was “very optimistic” about both his and the country’s future.

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