#103. Vote. And I did, and most of us did in cheerful queues around around the country, making small talk, and savouring the freedom to choose something. Election number four seems to have been mostly a relaxed affair. In 1994 I made my crosses in Yeoville, then home, and that night we threw a party that lasted into the small hours. The denizens of Rockey Street took to Minors Steet as Willie in the cowboy hat proclaimed that it was the place to be. The building swelled with people, friends, neighbours, neighbour’s friends, friend’s neighbours, barflies and failed poets, drunks and small time dope dealers, and even some very friendly and pretty hookers who kept asking me where the telephone was. It was a night worth remembering (haven’t had an open house since).
A few days later I stood with thousands of others at the Union Buildings on a beautiful day and watched with awe as Nelson Mandela took his oath and aeroplanes with wings dressed up in the colours of the South African flag roared overhead.
Five years on from that I was in what is now Polokwane, and then Pietersburg, reporting on the elections for the Sunday Times. When the votes were counted I was at the IEC and shook the new President’s hand. I had heard Thabo Mbeki speak to an audience of thousands on Wits campus soon after the ANC was unbanned and he had been impressive then. The next election was less memorable though. By then the Mbeki presidency had started to unravel. In place of humaneness, forgiveness and compassion came political expediency, hard-heartedness and a shattering of that sense of being, can i say, special, that Mandela allowed South Africans to believe in. Mbeki told us we were divided. Five years later we don’t think of ourselves as special any more.
But today, standing in that queue, I felt a sense of pride because it was not so long ago that people fought a fight worth fighting to let us stand in queues together. And while I don’t relish the idea of a Zuma presidency (too cloudy), I am ready to be happily wrong about my misgivings (a phrase uttered by a clever friend and one that is worth repeating).
So Jacob Zuma , if you can hear me, and if you do become president I ask of you that you wear your underpants on the outside of your clothes and put your country and the people who live in it above yourself as you did so many years ago, that you use your power for good, not evil, that you spend your days thinking of ways to outwit poverty and unemployment and defend the defenceless rather than trying to outfox your political opponents or please people by telling them what you think they want to hear.
Our crosses will be yours to bear.