South Africa has had many elections since it first became the Union of South Africa in 1910, but not everyone has been allowed to vote. At first, only white men were given the right to vote, but that changed in 1930, when white women were also given the right.
However, most of the population – black, coloured and Indian people – was not allowed to participate in the country’s elections.
South Africa broke away from the British Commonwealth in 1961 and declared itself a republic, which is where the initials RSA – Republic of South Africa – come from. Before that, the country’s initials were USA, for Union of South Africa, which could be confused with the United States of America. As a republic, South Africa had regular general elections, but voting was still reserved for white people.
Because of its race policies, South Africa was barred from competing in the Olympic Games from 1964, and, in the 1970s, South Africa was banned from competing in international rugby and cricket tournaments.
This was a heavy blow for the sport-mad nation.
When economic sanctions were imposed by many countries against South Africa in the 1980s, the government knew it had to make changes, even if it meant giving up power, so the National Party started negotiating with the banned liberation movements in exile, such as the ANC.
Nelson Mandela was still in jail, but, when he was released in 1990, serious talks about holding a national election began – this would be the first one in which every South African of voting age would be allowed to participate, regardless of the colour of their skin.
On April 27 1994, millions of South Africans of every colour made their mark, and a government of national unity was established. This meant that the two main parties, the ANC and the National Party, shared the government – Mandela was president and there were two deputy presidents.
One deputy president was former president FW de Klerk, and the other was Thabo Mbeki of the ANC. This government did not stay unified for long and broke apart in just over two years, leaving the ANC in control of government.
Today, national elections are held every five years in South Africa, and provincial elections are held every two and a half years. Every adult citizen in the country is allowed to vote, no matter what colour skin they have.
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