Tag Archives: 1994

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

27 Apr

This is what the Hub, Tory Boy and I were doing today in 1994, one of the best days of our lives: 

Not eating biscuits: queuing.

Not eating biscuits: queuing.

The first day of polling in the first Free & Fair South African election.

We were living in Alberton in the Transvaal at the time.  We got up early to be at the polling station for seven, when it opened.  We didn’t want to be stuck in queues all day long.  The government had declared a national holiday so that everyone could vote, and it seemed like everyone intended to.

We were first in the queue, but only just.  Not that it did us any good: we were still first in the queue come four o’clock in the afternoon.  There were no ballot papers at the polling station.  The election officials popped out periodically to tell us that they were on the way – in a helicopter now – would be here any minute.  None ever showed up, except on auction sites in the last few years.

In spite of this, and in spite of the news of bombs going off at the airport, the mood of the crowd was, well, joyous.  There was a lot of singing and a lot of braaing (barbecuing): those who came later and knew about the long wait brought their skottels (a portable gas barbecue) and fold-up deck chairs.  The Hub went home to make us some sandwiches and drinks, but I wish we had braaied instead.

Whole families turned out to vote.  We had four-year old Tory Boy with us.  I have another photo of him, sitting glumly on the kerb, unaware that he was participating in a truly momentous event in South African history.  He’s grateful now, of course.

We chatted to everyone around us.  There was a tearful old man who had never believed that he would ever get the chance to cast his vote.  There were Afrikaaners, resigned to the inevitable and taking it gracefully; and many who welcomed it.  I suppose those with strong opposition to the change were at home, planning protests.  People of every race, tribe, ethnicity, colour and political persuasion stood in that queue and waited with great patience for the ballot papers that never arrived.

There were no murmurings or angry voices, but there were a lot of rumours about what was happening in the rest of the country.  We were in a capsule, a moment in time when we were all in this together, all looking toward a happy and prosperous future; each believing that things would be better, fairer, and right.  We were in the mood to party, not fight.

No ballots came.

Because of our tired little boy, we wondered if we should go home and come back next day – the election was intended to be held over two days, but lasted three because of the issue of having nothing on which to cast your vote – but then we heard there was a magical polling station a few miles on which did have ballot papers, and even enough to go round.  We thought it was worth trying because we really did want to cast our vote on a day that would go down in history.  We wanted Tory Boy to be able to say that he was there. 

I don’t remember where either polling station was, except that the first was in a suburb and the other in a huge, unkempt field.  At the second, we joined a slightly smaller queue that we could see was moving, though it didn’t have the atmosphere of the first.    It took three hours but we got inside at last. 

The most bizarre moment of the day for me was when I went into the booth and there was a scruffy little stub of a pencil.  It didn’t seem fitting to cast a vote that would help change the political landscape of a nation, with a tatty bit of lead.  To this day, I’m not certain that I wasn’t expecting quills or expensive fountain pens. 

In the PWV area (Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) we had a choice of thirteen parties.  As brave as the National Party had been, I couldn’t vote for the architects of Apartheid.  I couldn’t vote for the ANC bunch of terrorists either, no matter how just their cause.  I didn’t think the KISS lot (Keep It Straight and Simple) was taking the whole thing seriously enough; and the Women’s Rights Peace Party was missing the point.  I voted for the Democratic Party.  Helen Suzman was a lone white protest voice in the wilderness of the Apartheid government for many years, so I voted for her party, which I felt had moral conviction.  As the vote was by proportional representation, I helped them to their seven seats.

I discovered a wonderful quote from Helen Suzman, via Wikipedia:

She was once accused by a minister of asking questions in parliament that embarrassed South Africa, to which she replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.”

Our tiny piece of history made, we took our exhausted child home, probably collecting a takeaway on the way.  Once he had eaten I put him straight to bed.  We followed soon after.  History is important but it’s the mundane that keeps us going.

Relatives living further out told us they hadn’t bothered to vote on the first day when they saw the queues; they left it to the next day and walked straight in and out.  It seemed most people wanted to vote on the first polling day.  I guess we were not the only people conscious of history on that glorious day.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

22 Apr

Late again with my response.  This is a terrible habit I have acquired.  In my defence, I never miss a plane.  Not that I ever go anywhere (except to France and Spain in the last six months, and possibly to Germany in the future, if I can find a cheap enough ticket).

I thought I would take you on a different journey today: a trip down memory lane; a journey from the past to the future; from wrong to right.

I lifted and edited this from my now defunct South Africa blog.  It’s not amusing, but I hope you enjoy it.

Here is Tory Boy, just turned four:

27 April, 1994, the day on which this was taken, was one of the best days of my life.  It was the first day of the first free and fair elections in South Africa.

We were living in Alberton in the Transvaal at the time.  We got up early to be at the polling station for seven, when it opened.  We didn’t want to be stuck in queues all day long.  The government had declared a national holiday so that everyone could vote, and it seemed like everyone intended to do just that.  Whole families turned out to vote.  We had four-year old Tory Boy with us.

We were first in the queue, but only just.  Not that it did us any good: we were still first in the queue come four o’clock in the afternoon.  There were no ballot papers at the polling station.  The election officials popped out periodically to tell us that they were on the way – in a helicopter now – would be here any minute.  None ever showed up, except on auction sites in the last few years.

In spite of this, and in spite of the news of bombs going off at Jan Smuts Airport, the mood of the crowd was joyous.  There was a lot of singing and a lot of braaing [barbecuing]: those who came later and knew about the long wait brought their skottels [portable gas barbecue] and fold-up deck chairs.  The Hub went home to make us some sandwiches and drinks.  We needed them.

We chatted to everyone around us.  There was a tearful old man who had never believed that he would ever get the chance to cast his vote.  There were Afrikaaners, resigned to the inevitable and taking it gracefully; and many more who welcomed it.  I suppose those with strong opposition to the change were elsewhere, protesting.  People of every race, tribe, ethnicity, colour and political persuasion stood in that queue and waited with great patience for the ballot papers that never arrived.

There were no murmurings or angry voices, but there were a lot of rumours about what was happening in the rest of the country.  We were in a capsule, a moment in time when we were all in this together, all looking toward a happy and prosperous future; each believing that things would be better, fairer, and right.  We were in the mood to party, not fight.

No ballots came.

Because of our tired little boy, we wondered if we should go home and come back next day – the election was intended to be held over two days, but lasted three because of the problem of having nothing on which to cast your vote – but then we heard there was a magical polling station a few miles on which did have ballot papers, and even – whisper it – enough to go round.  We thought it was worth trying because we really did want to cast our vote on a day that would go down in history.  We wanted Tory Boy to be able to say that he was there.

I don’t remember where either polling station was, except that the first was in a suburb and the other in a huge, unkempt field.  At the second, we joined a slightly smaller queue that we could see was moving, though it didn’t have the atmosphere of the first.    It took three hours but we got inside at last.

The most bizarre moment of the day for me was when I went into the booth and there was a scruffy little stub of a pencil.  It didn’t seem fitting to cast a vote that would help change the political landscape of a nation, with a tatty bit of lead.  To this day, I’m not certain that I wasn’t expecting quills or expensive fountain pens.

In the PWV area (Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) we had a choice of thirteen parties.  As brave as the National Party had been, I couldn’t vote for the architects of Apartheid.  I couldn’t vote for the ANC bunch of terrorists either, no matter how just their cause.  I didn’t think the KISS lot (Keep It Straight and Simple) was taking the whole thing seriously enough; and the Women’s Rights Peace Party was missing the point. 

I voted for the Democratic Party.  Helen Suzman was a lone white protest voice in the wilderness of the Apartheid government for many years, so I voted for her party, which I felt had moral conviction.  As the vote was by proportional representation, I helped them to their seven seats.

I discovered a wonderful quote from Helen Suzman, via Wikipedia:

She was once accused by a minister of asking questions in parliament that embarrassed South Africa, to which she replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.”

Our tiny piece of history made, we took our exhausted child home, probably collecting a takeaway on the way.  Once he had eaten I put him straight to bed.  We followed soon after.  History is important but it’s the mundane that keeps us going.

Relatives living further out told us they hadn’t bothered to vote on the first day when they saw the queues; they left it to the next day and walked straight in and out.  It seemed most of the country wanted to vote on the twenty-seventh.  I guess we were not the only people conscious of our tiny place in history on that glorious day.

Photo found here.

Beauty: It’s Relative

19 Jul

For the prompt, beauty, from Viewfromtheside.

Apart from my two babies, obviously, the most beautiful view I ever saw was of the green fields of Greater Manchester from the air, as we came into land.  I had just left South Africa with my children, practically running on to the plane to get away from the violence that followed in the years after the 1994 election.

When I finally went back for a visit, I cried as we came in to land at Johannesburg, because I was coming home.

What did I get most out of my fourteen years in South Africa?  A little crazy.

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Three At Last

6 May

As it’s General Election Day I’m going with the whole voting theme.  I am really excited about it; more so than usual.  Not as excited as I was in South Africa in 1994, of course, but that was a one-off.

I have been delivering leaflets all week for my Prospective Parliamentary Candidate.  This is a safe Labour seat so I doubt he’ll win, but at least I’ve done my bit for democracy. 

Leafleting the neighbourhood was an interesting experience.  My knuckles are raw from stiff and broken letter box flaps.  I almost lost my diamond ring and had to put it on my other hand.  People standing in their doorways glare at you, daring you to give them a leaflet; I know it’s not anti-Tory sentiment as they don’t know what I’m carrying; it’s anti-junk mail sentiment.  Huge dogs try to eat your fingers and little dogs stick their noses through low flaps.  I was surprised by the number of mail items I could have stolen if I had been so inclined: the postmen don’t push them right in. 

One door opened as I posted the leaflet.  I knocked several times and called out to let the owner know it was open.  No-one answered, but I heard footsteps and then the door was shut in my face.  I hope it wasn’t a burglar.  And if it was, I hope he at least read the leaflet and voted. 

I have been to vote this afternoon.  It was great to see a busy polling station for the first time in thirteen years.  I could write a long diatribe about voter apathy but I can’t be bothered.  I really think the debates have energised the election and I hope it stays that way.  I’m glad to see the Lib Dems doing well in the polls because we need real and vigorous debate and a strong opposition, whichever party it is.  I hope it doesn’t carry over to the actual result, of course, but a good turnout is healthy for democracy and I’ll continue believing that – whoever wins. 

Happy New Year

31 Dec

A long time ago, in a New Year's party far, far away...

The Hub, Spud and I will be spending New Year’s Eve watching a movie here in Stockport.  We will sing Auld Lang Syne at midnight, drink a toast, then chuck Spud out of the house so he can First Foot us.  Tory Boy is at a party somewhere in Lancaster, and will probably phone us just after twelve.  And that’s the extent of our celebrations.  I can’t even blame it on being parents because we’ve never made a big deal of New Year, apart from one many moons ago, when we were over here in the UK on holiday from South Africa, and went to the Brother-in-Law’s (see photo); and another in 1994 when we had family staying with us in SA, and we hosted a karaoke party.   We had people coming from all over and it was the height of summer, so extraneous rellies pitched their tent in our garden; and a nephew slept in the bakkie (a pick-up truck with a lid). The most memorable thing about that party was not the discovery that I have to be pretty tipsy to get up and sing, and then I’ll bash you about the face with the mike before I’ll hand it over; but the next morning, when a cousin, his wife and two toddlers found themselves eating tent canvas for breakfast, our Dobermann having chewed the guy ropes in the night.

I wish you and yours a very happy New Year: may your cupboards be full, your newspapers report only good news, and your credit have no crunch.

Happy New Year!

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