by: John S Alty
A terse, but impactful, story about the first free election in South Africa, 25 years ago next April…
A blood-red sun rose through the smoke of a thousand cooking fires, smoke that lay like a toxic blanket over the distant Alexandra township, then burst clear and threw its golden mantle over the land. It was a typical African dawn on the Highveld, but this was not a typical day. Daniel and his mother stepped down from the bus and followed the other passengers towards the school’s playing fields, fields more dirt than grass.
Daniel had begged his father to be with them, to leave the hostel at the mine in Witbank in time so they could all be together for this special day. His father had been steadfast, without his weekly attendance bonus the family would be hard pressed and they had to be practical. He could not be with them.
Daniel led the way and joined the end of the line, a line that disappeared off into the distance, returned and then set off again, snaking towards the old tin-roofed school house sitting below the kopje. Daniel and his mother greeted those around them and made the elaborate ritual handshakes expected of them. They moved with the line as it shuffled forward, determined and unstoppable. The impossible was happening.
The sun was high in a sky the color of faded denim by the time they reached a copse of thorn trees and Daniel and his mother drank some of the water they carried, then offered it to others who had paused in the shade. Daniel wiped sweat from his face with the sleeve of his shirt. The tail of the line was escaping out into the sun and heat again, but they knew no-one would jump ahead and they took a few moments respite and then scurried to reconnect with it.
Every now and again singing broke out, spread down the line and all would join in, passing the song along to those that trailed behind them. The line danced and toyi-toyied, moving to the rhythmic slap of feet on the hard-packed earth as it neared its destination.
“Polling Station,” it read in big black letters on a sign hanging over the door to the school house. When their turn came, Daniel and his mother went in and each made a choice and became part of a new beginning. It was April 27, 1994.