Today is a public holiday in South Africa. Well, technically yesterday, 27 April 2014, was the public holiday, but in South Africa where a public holiday falls on a Sunday the following day, the Monday, becomes the holiday. Never deny the workers a paid day off work.
The holiday is Freedom Day. It commemorates the first time everyone, regardless of colour, sex or creed, over the age of 18 was allowed to vote. Democracy. That was twenty years ago now. There were three days of voting in that first, exciting election. I was working for the IEC and I only place my X (for a party, not a candidate), on 28 April 1994. A proud moment for me. It was a time of great hope in our future even if there was a lot of uncertainty in the air. Some far right-wing white pessimists had stocked up on tinned baked beans and were preparing for some kind of seige, much to the amusement of the more liberal crowd who just knew they would regret their lack of planning if the pessimists were correct. Some people knew they should be planning but would rather die than eat baked beans every day for several years.
Celebrating Freedom Day is one of the better reasons to have a public holiday.
South Africa holds elections every five years, not every four years. We are approaching our fifth general election which will take place on 7 May 2014, just over a week away.
Now, as then, I am in two minds as to which party should get my vote. I am less hopeful about the outcome than I was then. Mandela was a man of personal integrity, a man of great intellect, good education, absolute generosity and a strong love for his people. Zuma is a man with a record of dodgy deals, sexual infidelities (if not actually the rape for which he was tried and not convicted) and an advanced sense of personal enrichment and entitlement at the expense of his people. No one is stocking up on baked beans, especially not the people who would rather die than eat baked beans every day for several years.
Twenty years has made a huge difference to this country. “For better and for worse” as they say in the Anglican wedding vows. I think of the words of the national anthem, changed from “we shall live and die for freedom” of the original translation to “we shall live and strive for freedom”. I know that Zuma has stolen some of our freedom with his wicked “Secrecy” Act. I know he’s stolen some of our freedom when he blatantly lies about Nkandla and people pretend to believe him. But I also know that I am still a patriot, ready to serve my country “in sickness and in health until death us do part”.
But I still don’t know where I will place my X on 7 May 2014.