WATCH: Struggle veterans recall casting their votes in '94: 'It was like a miracle'

2019-04-27 10:21

On May 8, South Africans will head to the polls in the nation's sixth national elections since the birth of democracy in 1994. 

It has been a quarter of a century since that historic day when Nelson Mandela, who had been a prisoner of the apartheid government for 27 years, was elected as South Africa's first black president of a fully representative, democratic government. 

The occasion was momentous. Images of people queueing for kilometres to vote - for the majority of them their first time ever - were broadcast and printed all over the world. 

News24 caught up with some of the erstwhile struggle leaders - now known as elders - to find out what was going through their minds when they were casting their vote 25 years ago. 

'Amazing event'

Doctor Tim Wilson, former director of the Alexandra Health Centre and ANC elder, told News24 1994 was not "a single event".

"If I go back to 1989, things were really rough," Wilson said. "I was working in Alex township and there was huge violence. It's amazing that, within five years, we could vote. So 1994 was an amazing event. But it was an event marking a milestone after a journey and it was not the end of the journey. It was just the start of the hard work," Wilson said. 

Former deputy minister of foreign affairs, Aziz Pahad, said it was "like a miracle".

"I think it was the people's struggle inside the country [and] outside the country, international support, the leadership of OR Tambo and the internal leadership of the UDF and then Mandela that made it happen. 

"But winning the first election and the subsequent elections is not the end of the problem," Pahad warned. "You've got to continue dealing with these challenges."

Pahad said "things have gone wrong". "All liberation movements have a period of decay and renewal. We're going through this now. It's time for a new generation of leaders. We as the veterans must play a bigger role in raising the consciousness of our people to really make our movement one to be proud of."

'I love voting!'

Former high commissioner to the UK and former chair of SANParks and SAA, Cheryl Carolus, said she remembers voting in 1994 well.  "I get so excited about voting! I just love voting," Carolus said, laughing. 

Transnet chair Popo Molefe said voting in 1994 was a historic moment. "It was something we had been yearning for. Remember when we fought to liberate our country, we said fundamentally we were fighting for a constitution that confers on our people to choose the party that they want to vote for and to set up a government of the people. That moment represented that great yearning."

Molefe said it was the beginning of a new chapter to "reconstruct the country on the ashes of apartheid". 

ANC veteran and former director-general of the Department of Home Affairs Mavuso Msimang said voting in 1994 was "exciting". 

'Lost credibility'

"In fact, I joined queues which were kilometres and kilometres long... and it was exciting. It was like, my God, it has come at last."

However, said Msimang, the ANC leadership has "allowed the situation to deteriorate". "Deteriorate to the extent that we have lost a lot of credibility among our traditional supporters. We lost the trust of many people in the electorate."

Msimang said there were "wars" inside the ANC. He said "forces that were unfortunately assisted from right at the top" - a reference to the Guptas and disgraced former president Jacob Zuma - were "too much to overcome and we lost a lot of ground". 

"But we haven't lost everything," Msimang said. "A properly functioning ANC will be so much better than anything else." 

Political parties are currently electioneering throughout the country to woo voters ahead of the elections. 

Read more on:    anc  |  elections 2019

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