Their Day Had Finally Come
I had never seen such a long line, at least half-a-mile long. It was dawn on April 27, 1994, in a township near Cape Town, South Africa. Throngs of people, old and young, healthy and infirm, stood patiently waiting in long lines that wrapped around the schoolhouse voting station. It was their first chance ever to cast their ballots for freedom in the first free election in three hundred years of exclusively white rule in South Africa. Their time had come. It was 1994, and all now had the right to vote. One by one, each stepped forward, hand-marking their ballots and dropping them into the box; Their faces lit up, beaming with smiles, some dancing, some with tears. I couldn’t hold back my tears. It was indeed a long time coming.
“It was a day like no other,” Nelson Mandela said. Apartheid was over.
Never again will I take for granted the power of a single voice, my vote. I was there for a purpose, as an Official (IEC) International Election Observer, my role was to watch and report. As each township resident came forward, I felt I was with them, feeling with them, seeing in their faces hope for the future and hope for years of oppression to be wiped away by the cast of a vote. I watched, I observed, and I also felt the liberation with them, thinking to myself I will never ever take the opportunity to vote for granted. It’s our civic duty and privilege to voice our very own opinion through voting. No matter our race or gender, each voice must be heard. Thinking back to that time, prior to 1994, knowing millions of people had no rights to vote. Never again will I take it for granted, my right to vote and be heard.
* The first democratic elections, which allowed all races to vote in South Africa, was clearly a historic feat. Elected leader Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, was the first black President in South Africa, 1994, and served through 1999.
Mary Byron, working with the U.S. Consulate was selected as an IEC International Election Observer during the First Democratic Elections in South Africa, in 1994. Mary is currently writing about her two years of personal experiences in Cape Town during the turmoil and strife leading up to the historic elections of 1994.