Posts Tagged ‘Mandela’

Wow!  I kinda can’t think of anything else other than WOW! to say, really!  Words are failing me…

The emotion around this US election from people everywhere around me, is just huge.  From immense fear, felt deep in the core — to elation and tears of joy.

Well done Mr. President!  You have achieved something beyond what anyone thought would ever happen here in the US.

May you rule as wise and as blessed as Mr. Mandela.  May you bring the strength and beauty of the essence of the Rainbow Nation to the US.

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Today is a day that will go down in history across the world. In case you missed it (as if!), today is the US Election Day, a culmination of an historic electoral process, and possibly the day the US gets their first black president.

Wow! I feel truly privileged to be alive in these times and even more privileged to be witnessing this process first hand, here in Maryland, USA.

And yet, it is strange for me. I am resident here, married to a wonderful American man, step-mother to 2 American kids, had property on US soil, hopefully soon-to-be mom to an American baby – and yet I cannot vote. Massive decisions are being made about my life today – and I do not have a voice.

Oh, please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t expect to have a voice – yet. I understand why foreigners should not have a voice. It’s just disconcerting. Wanting to have a say in what will affect my life and yet not being allowed to. Shades of how it might have felt for woman all those years ago? And black people, not too long ago? Obviously it’s not quite the same. But still, it’s really got me thinking.

With a strange sense of disbelief, I’ve been reading the pleading blog posts, begging people to vote. Apparently there are some who think it is cool not to vote. Huh? How is it cool not to have a voice? It is only through the privilege of knowing you can vote if you want to, that you have the luxury of not voting in the first place. How do people not see this? How do people not see that could be ripped away at ANY MOMENT?

As my husband went off to vote this morning and I stayed behind, I couldn’t help but think about the last time I voted.

It was 1994 in South Africa and I was 23 years old.  It was to be my first vote (I was old enough to vote in the previous elections, but I really had not become involved and it all seemed pretty  meaningless to me, and eventually I didn’t bother voting). Apartheid had been abolished, Nelson Mandela had been released from prision and was then the head of one of the major running parties, the ANC. It was also the first time blacks were able to vote. As whites, we knew that we would probably go from our all white, mainly Afrikaans government to a black government. The non-white population outnumbered the white population by 10 to 1 and of course the blacks would vote ANC (and who would not vote for Mandela, the hero and legend?). So we knew our lives were going to change dramatically. We just didn’t know how. And we were very, very scared.

The whole country had voting day off work, school etc as it was declared a national holiday. The powers that be were making damn sure there would be no reason people couldn’t vote if they wanted to. Logistically speaking they were managing a process the magnitude of which had never before been seen in South Africa. They were expecting people to have to queue all day long to vote. They were expecting violence and intimidation. It was a dramatic and energy-filled time and place to be alive in (as today in the US is).

The day dawned and it was a beautiful sun-filled April day, unlike today which is grey and overcast (in MD anyway). I knew what I was voting. For me, wrapped up in fear, there was only one choice really. I would vote for the National Party, the traditionalist white party. I was so scared of the unknown; I just could not vote ANC. I was aware that my vote, in the vast sea of expected ANC votes, would not matter, would not tip the scales. But I wanted to have that tiny voice anyway, even if it was to be drowned out. There was also a tiny flicker of hope that a miracle would happen and we would stay the same and not head into unknown oceans.

I remember being so scared that day. What would happen at the polls? Would we be attacked? Would the police and army be able to keep any unrest at bay?

So my friend, her husband and I queued at the local primary (elementary) school to vote. It wasn’t too bad. If memory serves correctly, I think we only queued for about 2 or 3 hours, which was great considering the predictions. We debated amongst ourselves…would we bother voting if the queue was really long…would we bother standing the whole day? I was so grateful to not have to make that choice, because I really wanted to vote, but couldn’t fathom standing a whole day to do so. There was no violence or intimidation (where we were anyway) and everyone was quite jovial. I don’t recall seeing many blacks though, but assumed they would be queuing nearer their homes (we still had segregated living then). I don’t recall the actual vote itself, but I remember feeling awesome after the fact. I had voiced my opinion in government matters, first time ever!

In retrospect, I am ashamed that my vote was governed by fear and color, not the actual issues at hand. My only excuse is that I was young, and brainwashed, and very, very afraid.

When we returned home we spent the rest of the day watching the television coverage of the elections. That day I gained a new respect for my fellow black country men and woman. They stood for hours and hours and hours to vote. They stood during violence and intimidation. They stood on dirt roads with children on their backs, with little or no water, under the baking African sun. They stood till the sun went down. And they stood some more. And still it wasn’t enough time.

They were a determined people. They would be heard. No matter what it took.

The powers that be decided that the next day would be a national holiday as well, to allow those that had stood the whole day, another opportunity to cast their vote.

So they stood again, after standing the entire previous day. And as they cast their votes, we watched on TV. It was a humbling experience. Voting had to be extended to a third day, but that day was not declared a national holiday.

I will never forget the lessons I learned on those historic days. How very important it is to have a voice and then to voice it, even if you think it won’t make a difference.

Of course the ANC won the election, as we knew it would. And we had our first black president, the great man Nelson Mandela. It was not an out-and-out win though (2/3 majority). A tripartite government was formed, of which the National Party was one. So my vote DID count. And in a good way. We now had a more balanced government.

Nelson Mandela will always hold a special place in my heart, but not for the usual folk legend activist reasons. But because he took our country in his hands and held it gently. He could have massacred us whites, us who had imprisoned him and terrorized and murdered his people for so many years. He could have taken away our voice. But he didn’t. Instead, he fostered the Rainbow Nation. For that he will always be the greatest hero our generation has ever seen, in my eyes anyway.

So today, sitting here in the US, as I ponder on how yet again I may witness a first black president, think about what it might be like to not be heard. And know that as much as it might not seem possible in this day and age, that right could be ripped from you at ANY TIME. So use it, damnit! And be grateful.

As an aside, it is gratifying for me to see that out of all the many blogs I follow, the people (that I know of) who are monitoring the voting locations, ensuring safety and fairness for all and not just talking about it or blogging about it, are my pagan friends. Yay for pagans!

For the record, if I could vote, I would vote for Obama. The reasons are long and convoluted and not really interesting reading. But I just thought I’d mention it, because it’s just so interesting for me to see where I came from and where I’m at now.

I might also add that because of this election I have decided to become a US citizen as soon as I am able to. I want a voice where I live.

Happy voting, my US friends!

(If you’re up for it, here is some further reading: 1994 SA Elections, SA Voting System and History, Mandela )

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