I woke early on the morning of April 27, 1994. I’d been up late with friends, celebrating the life of photojournalist Ken Oosterbroek who had been shot just 9 days before in Thokoza. I was tired, and hung over, but I meant to vote in South Africa’s first democratic election, and I figured I should probably get there early.
I knew the polling station was near to the garden cottage I rented, a church. I wasn’t sure of the exact location, but I didn’t bother with my contact lenses, just grabbed my green ID book, and walked down the street until I found the back of the line.
I was sure I’d be done in a few hours and I’d get back to bed It was around 5am. But there we stood. Shuffling slowly forward. In front of me, a black woman, a live-in maid, dressed in the uniform so many wore, a neatly pressed pastel-colored house dress, with matching head scarf and a white apron over the top.
We stood for a long time. A very long time. Turned out we were miles from the church, or kilometres, we did things metric, you know. She kept my place when I went home midmorning to get sunglasses and contacts. I kept hers when she home to serve lunch.
By late afternoon, we were finally snaking around the building. And we could see people coming out, many having voted for the first time in their lives, singing, dancing.
Eleven hours in a line to vote. Many waited longer, had to come back the next day, the day after that. Close to 90% of the population showed up to cast their ballot over those three days in April.
I was at an event last night, and as the lone South African in the room, I had a lot of conversations about Mandela. Mostly I told people how it felt that he had pulled off an absolute miracle at the time. For all of us. That it still does. A largely peaceful transition of power from oppressor to oppressed. Amazing.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Indeed. Words to live by. This extraordinary man will be deeply missed I do not think the world shall see his like for many, many years.