Thursday, April 27, 2023

Freedom Day

 Michael – Alternate Thursdays

Today is Freedom Day in South Africa, at least as significant here as July 4 is in the US. It commemorates the first election in South Africa where everyone was allowed to vote—irrespective of race. In fact, it was irrespective of nationality. Anyone currently living in the country was allowed to have their say. One received a short-term indelible ink mark on one’s thumb to prevent voting twice and that was it. Was there fraud? Probably a little but not enough to make any difference to the outcome, which was a resounding victory for the African National Congress led by the incredible Nelson Mandela. The day was declared as a national holiday then, and has remained one ever since. That was just as well because the lines were long and in the end the election extended over two days. It was vital that everyone would have the chance—for the first time ever—to have his or her voice heard. The logistics didn’t matter. It was the process itself that was vitally important. Perhaps even countries with longer and more established democratic traditions could learn something from that.

Even before, I usually voted in elections. If there was a Progressive Party candidate under the leadership of the redoubtable Helen Suzman, I would vote for her/him and even help to canvass. But even with a party that reached out towards black people and condemned the evils of apartheid, one knew that it was a sham. The party was trying to represent black people but they themselves had no representation. On April 27, 1994, there was no such reservation. At last everyone had a say, even if it took a whole day or longer to reach the front of the line. The mood was exuberant. People chatted, shared food, and no one seemed to find it weird that black and white and Indian and mixed race people shared the line and the process—something unthinkable a couple of years before. In fact as apartheid collapsed around us, it was revealed for what it was: a system to suppress black people. Everything else was just smoke and mirrors. 

It’s hard to explain the feelings I had that day, but they included relief and excitement about a future that had seemed out of reach for so long as South Africa trod the road followed so disastrously by Rhodesia. Somehow, we’d avoided all that. I had no doubt that both Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk deserved their Nobel prizes when they received them. Certainly not as equals, but if PW Botha had held onto the leadership, the outcome would have been appallngly different.

The previously ruling National Party emerged from the election with little support and as politics realigned, it disappeared as its members were absorbed into other right wing or center parties or retired from politics altogether.

After several hours in the line, I went home and watched as the results came in. The rest is history.

We now look back to that day 29 years ago with mixed feelings. Almost ten years ago, I wrote about the upcoming twentieth anniversary of those elections—Freedom Day 2014—and a report from Goldman Sachs on Twenty Years of Freedom. Perhaps they will produce one for thirty years also, but I suspect not. (You can read that blog HERE.) The report showed gaps and problems, but the drift was upbeat. There was excitement for the future.

The last ten years haven’t been good, and the list of bad things would be longer and more negative, while the good things would be less impressive. Fortunately, we have Annamaria to encourage us to look at the positive side. Today, that’s what I intend to do.


  1. Henrik Linnemann-SchmidtApril 27, 2023 at 8:13 AM

    The last 10 years may not be that good, but they can only be better than before 1994. We all cross fingers the good times to come back.
    Whatever happens, I can't wait to come back in SA spring Oct.-Nov.

  2. Michael--thanks so much for posting this. Just the idea of the magnitude of that day and the vivid way you've described it lifts my spirits, as we begin another election spiral in the U.S. Here's to ink on thumbs and long lines for liberty and justice for all.

  3. A remarkable story of a remarkable time in history, Michael. The right to vote should never be taken for granted. I always try to bear in mind when it comes to an election that it wasn't *so* long ago here in the UK that women were not allowed to take part, and died in the struggle for that right. I always cast my vote, even if it is for 'none of the above'...

  4. Such a remarkable article made by the admin. I really appreciate it.
    Personal injury lawyer Fort Lee NJ