Headmaster had to ensure glitch-free 1st vote for Madiba

2013-12-07 11:45

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The day Vusumuzi Sangweni met Nelson Mandela was one of the scariest of his life.

Sangweni was then the headmaster of Ohlange High School at Inanda north of Durban – the home town of ANC founding president John Langalibalele Dube.

And he was the man responsible for making sure that the “most important person in the world” got to vote without a hitch on April 27 1994.

Sangweni, who is now retired, was the electoral officer responsible for the voting station at the historic school.

His team had only been told that morning that Mandela would be voting at their station.

“Fortunately we had gone for intensive training already because of the importance of Ohlange. But that had not prepared me for the tension of knowing that inside the voting station, it was my responsibility for making sure that everything went ahead legally and correctly,” said Sangweni.

“We also had to make sure that everything went correctly after he left and that the entire process was smooth. It was one of the most tension-filled days of my life.”

In an interview with City Press at Ohlange, Sangweni said the massive media contingent which had descended on the polling station in the wake of Mandela’s convoy had been “very intimidating”.

“There were journalists and cameras everywhere. The entire world’s attention was focused on us. The media pressure was tremendous. They even demanded that we take the ballot box and voting booth outside so that all could take their pictures. We could not do that – it would have meant that all the votes cast were invalid. But security prevailed and it went off without a hitch.”

Sangweni said that despite the tension, his time with Mandela that day exposed him to the statesman’s “humanity.”

“He came across as so humble, so himself,” said Sangweni. “There was a very real sense of a person who cared, who was conscious of the place, the time, but was still human.”

Mandela’s legacy, said Sangweni, was “being human” and “taking children seriously”.

“It was truly an honour and a privilege to have been there at such a moment in history,” Sangweni said. “It is something which will remain with me all my life.”

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