In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, mainly due to the immense pressure that was being put on the South Africa’s government from outside governments and parties. There were talks of international sanctions and nations refusing to work with South Africa if Mandela was not released. The mentalities of white South Africans during Apartheid were not ideal. They believed the four races to be unequal and it was exemplified in their words and actions. Such as, whites were only allowed to vote during the apartheid era. However, in 1994, when Nelson Mandela ran for president, everyone over the age of 18 was allowed vote regardless of race, and many took advantage of this newfound opportunity.
I have many memories from that day. I recall the polling stations opening at 6 a.m. but my family, being so excited, didn’t sleep a wink the night before. As a family, we were up by 4 a.m. and heading out the door. Yet, by the time we arrived at the polling stations there were already lines down the street with voters. Such waves of excitement swept over the crowds that no one minded the many hours they had been standing in line.
In South Africa, you don’t vote for an individual, you vote for a party. So I remember looking at the long ballot in front of me, wondering if I’d put my Xs in the right places—you get nervous about that sort of thing when you’re so excited and it is easy to make mistakes, so I just hoped I’d put my X next to the ANC (African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela) and not next to the National Party.
Once my peers and I finished voting, we got into cars and transported others to the voting stations. We did this all day and, by the end of the day, we were exhausted. Yet, this didn’t keep us from staying up and waiting for the results to come in. By 10 p.m., the ANC was winning by a huge margin and we knew Nelson Mandela was going to be our next president but we waited until midnight to pop the champagne.
As a child growing up in South Africa, I never quite felt that I belonged there. I felt that cultural norms that did not align with my own were being pushed upon me. When singing the national anthem or learning Afrikaans, I would do so begrudgingly just because I didn’t feel like it belonged to me. So, it was not until I actually had the opportunity to vote that I felt like I belonged in the country that I resided in. I finally felt as if I had a country.
By Ansuyah Naiken, Global Competency Training Manager
To read the second half of Ansuyah’s story, including her chance encounter with Nelson Mandela and her thoughts on Mandela’s legacy, visit The International Center’s blog on Tuesday, July 18, the date that would have been Mandela’s 99th birthday. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.