A Day To Remember Election 1994 In

South Africa Essay, Research Paper

A Day to Remember:

Election 1994 in South Africa

An old woman in South Africa walks along a dirty street, struggles under the weight of her possessions. She is tired and hot, but she pursues her goal. She wants to take advantage of her new privilege before she dies.

A busy young man strides down a crowded street in New York City. In his hand he carries a briefcase, which includes some proposals that he plans to work on at home. A short distance ahead of him, he sees a sign ?VOTE?. He keeps walking past the polls. He says to himself. ?I am but one in a million. Maybe I will vote later if I can find the time.?

Although her feet ache, she steps ahead a few more steps. Here!!! Finally, after years of waiting. She sets down her load, bursting with excitement. The pain in her feet has ceased.

He reaches his tall, towering apartment building, feeling the strain of the day. ?Oh well, I?ll vote at the next election.? He says. After all he would live for a long time, and his vote would not make a difference in the years to come. His future would not be changed by one lousy vote.

Finally, in her old age, after years of fighting for this right, she and many others have voted for the first time. Their country will be changed to help the people, of today and tomorrow.

He?ll vote when he gets around to it. He hasn?t had to fight for it. It?s always been there.

Around the world, America is known as the land of opportunity. Yet, we take for granted the one opportunity that can make a difference in our society, the right to vote. We have to look at the black nation of South Africa, which was under white dictatorship for years and years, and was not included in deciding who will be President of their country. The right to vote is a thing to be cherished. It is something worth dying for.

South Africa?s citizens right to vote came after years of struggle under white rule know as apartheid. Under apartheid white people held political control with the majority of people living in South Africa having little or no real representation in government, which included the right to vote (”Resistance to, ” 2000, para.1).

Americans right to vote also came after years of struggle. In the early days only a few Americans had the right to vote, except blacks, white women, and those persons who were not landowners or taxpayers (Amamoo & Leiterman, 2000, para.8). Over the years, states began to eliminate property ownership, the payment of taxes, and one?s religious beliefs, as prerequisites to voting. By 1850, these barriers were obsolete in all states, but other significant barriers, specifically race and/or gender, remained. It would take almost one hundred years and several amendments to the Constitution before these barriers were abolished (2000 para.9). The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted all blacks the right to vote (2000, para.10).

Before apartheid became the official policy, South African had a long history of racial segregation. The African National Congress (ANC) was formed in 1912 as a nonviolent civil rights organization that worked to promote the interest of Black Africans (”Resistance to, ” 2000, para.2).

In the 1950?s the ANC was reborn under the leadership of then president Albert Lutuli and his associates, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. The ANC actively opposed apartheid and engaged in increasing political combat with the government (”Resistance to, ” 2000, para.2). The organization issued the Freedom charter, which stated that “South Africa belongs to all that live in it, black and white (”Resistance to, ” 2000, para.2).

Robert Sobukwe, a member of the ANC that felt that South Africa belonged only to the Black Africans, formed a rival party, the Pan ?African Congress, (PAC). Seeking to displace the ANC, the PAC organized mass demonstrations that led to the massacre of black protestors in Sharpeville in March 1960. In response to the demonstrations the government banned both the ANC and the PAC, because the leaders of the organizations expressed the need for the end of apartheid. (”Resistance to, ” 2000, para.3).

In 1964, Mandela and Sisulo were sentenced to life in prison for their ANC activities, as well as any other groups the government felt were a threat to them. (”Resistance to, ” 2000, para.4).

In 1990, the government lifted its ban on the ANC and other Black African organizations. In that same year Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years by then president F.W. deKlerk. President deKlerk, felt it was time for apartheid to come to an end (”Resistance to, ” 2000 para.13). After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela was elected president of the ANC (”Resistance to, ” 2000 para.14). With the help of deKlerk, Mandela was able to become one of the candidates for the Presidential Election of 1994 (”Resistance to, ” 2000 para.15)

The days of voting were finally here. Just about everyone went to the polls. Citizens in South Africa of all races and heritage turned out for their country?s first free election. They eagerly descended on thousands of polling places in numbers that clearly astonished election officials, and bewildered the apartheid government and shocked observers.

Lines to the ballot boxes looped back and forth, some miles long. The sun was beating down on the crowd or the rain was coming down on the crowd, trying to scare them off. But, they stayed to accomplish what they came to do. Nothing was going to stop them. The citizens in the lines included mothers with their infants, men and women with swollen feet, from walking miles and miles. People squatted. Some ate their meals that they brought with them. Some read books. Others made new friends. But, nobody left before making his or her mark in South African history. Most were voting for the first time in their lives. It was like a festival, but the main event was in private. There was mixed feelings among the voters, excitement, fear, but the most pervasive sentiment was hope for the future and end of apartheid. A time to be free. I spoke with Alamin Ahdella who was born in East Africa, but now lives in Georgia. He followed the elections on television. I asked him to place himself in that long line and tell me how does he feel. He stated that if he was there he would be thinking ?Is it necessary? Should I cast my vote? Does my vote count and will it make a difference (Ahdella, personal communication June 2, 2000).

In comparing the two nations, South Africa and the United States, Black Americans primarily went through the same struggle as the citizens of South Africa did to gain the right to vote. The election of 1994 in South Africa really hit home, especially in the black communities in the U.S. (Reynolds, 1994 para.3 ). The Elections brought back memories of the Civil Rights Era, when blacks were fighting to gain full citizenship rights and to achieve racial equality. During the Civil Rights movement, individuals and organizations challenged segregation and discrimination with a variety of activities, including protest marches, boycotts and refusal to abide by segregation laws . (Reynolds, 1994 para.4). This is the same situations that the South Africans went through. African Americans can now sit in the front of the bus, eat in the same restaurant as whites, drink from the same water fountains, and yes, they have the freedom to vote. This is why it is so important for Black Americans to take the time to vote. Amamoo and Leitherman reports that Statistics released by the U.S. Federal Elections Commission ?show that in 1996 only 49.8 percent of the population voted in the general election? (2000 para.1). Most people believe that their vote will not make a difference. Others make excuses such as not having enough time to vote, they can?t get off from their jobs to vote, or they are to busy (2000 para.2). I think this is so pitiful and so sad. I spoke with James Davis who didn?t vote in the last election ?I felt that it was obvious who would be elected, and candidates from different parties were ignored by the media.? (Davis, personal communication, June 7, 2000). I think these excuses are just excuses and are so untrue. If we want to make a difference and put the right person in government we have to go out there and cast our votes.

Yes, the government has many problems. There are programs that need to be addressed, issues that need to be resolve and compromises that need to reached. Without our votes, none of these things will ever be accomplished. Those of us who need help (don?t we all?) won?t receive it, those of us who want a better life for ourselves and our children (again, don?t we all?) won?t get that either.

Besides not being a part of the solution, if someone doesn?t vote, he or she could be part of the problem. In a baseball game, if someone is as good a player as everyone else on the team yet refuses to play, do they have any right to criticize the team or the coaching staff if the game is lost? Of course not. It?s possible that something the insensitive baseball player would have done would have made the them more successful. By not participating, he or she prevented the team?s success. None of us would wish our team to lose.

Whether we vote as Democrats, Republicans or independents, our votes count and the outlook that our votes don?t really count simply encourages the lack of interest to vote. We are obligated to vote by definition of our citizenship. Part of what makes us Americans is this right to vote for our country?s leaders and policies.

The right, and the responsibility, to take part in our government might be compared to the baseball game in the previous paragraph. The umpires in the game have the right to make calls about the operation of the game and whether the players are playing by the rules. If they don?t accept this responsibility by exercising this right, the game doesn?t function properly, it becomes chaotic and free for all.

The same happens with our government. If we, as voters (the umpires) , don?t accept our responsibility to make calls about the operation of our government and whether the politicians (the players)are playing by the rules, the government doesn?t function properly. In order to aid our government and ourselves, we must assume this responsibility, and vote.



Sisk, T.D. (1994). A U.S. Perspective of South Africa’s 1994 Election. In a. Reynolds (ED.), Election ‘94 South Africa: the campaigns, results and future prospects (pp. 144-158). New York: St. Martins Press.

South Africa, history of. (2000). Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved [May 28, 2000] from the World Wide Web: http://www.britannica.com

Armamoo, S. J., & Leiterman, H. ( 2000). The legal struggles to gain Americans the right to vote. Social Education, 172-179. Retrieved [May 28, 2000] [Periodical Abstracts database, GALILEO] on the World Wide Web: http://www.galileo.peachnet.edu


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