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U3A Writing: Election Day

…There was a great deal of warmth amongst the people. It was as if magically they had all decided that for one day in their lives they were all going to live in peace and harmony. And they were succeeding admirably. This day was a momentous day; a day which marked the end of one epoch and the beginning of a new era. This day was symbolic of the golden millennium…

Yusuf Garda recalls a golden day in the history of South Africa.

Ismail woke up very early that morning and went to the Mayfair Mosque for the early morning prayer. Though it was dark at 5:30, there were several people walking in the streets and on the pavements in Fordsburg. They were going to the various schools where the election voting was taking place. It was South Africa’s first democratic election ever.

The sky was still dark and the street lights were glowing. When Ismail entered the mosque there were already more than fifty people there.

There was tranquillity and peace, and the lights shone solemnly inside.

Ismail prayed in earnest for an end to violence; he prayed for peace to reign supreme; he prayed that there be enough food for the hungry and starving; he prayed that there be shelter for the homeless; he prayed that there be work for the unemployed; he prayed that there be reconciliation amongst these diverse peoples and he prayed fervently for God to guide all who lived in the beloved country.

Ismail returned home and at the breakfast table spoke to his wife Hafsa and his daughter Sumayya that today was a historic day. He outlined the suffering of the people over three hundred years and their resistance to the tyranny that had devastated them. He told his family to vote compassionately, kindly and intelligently.

The sun was bright and sparkling. There were such massive crowds at the different polling stations that Ismail decided he would vote in the afternoon. After lunch Ismail felt something special as he and his family walked towards Homestead Park. Today was a day for voting. He would be voting for the fist time in his life.

An interminable queue had formed at the Johannesburg school where the polling was taking place. Nevertheless, he was determined to be in the queue even if it took several hours. Outside the school was a grassed area with a pole fence on which the tired voters sat. This area was useful for babies and schoolchildren, who spent most of the day rolling on the green and playing cricket, soccer and volleyball. There was a strange dignified atmosphere after the violence of the previous weeks. The crowd was a mixed group of many races: whites, blacks, Indians and coloureds. It was quite different from anything he had seen before. And this endless procession of aspiring voters was being observed and protected by white and black policemen and women. There was banter and light humour as people laughed and joked and stood in front of amateur video photographers.

The patience of the people was something to marvel at. It was a unique experiment to see black, white, Indian and coloureds all mixed in a queue. Blacks were used to standing long hours in queues. All their lives were a toil of standing in long queues: waiting for buses, waiting for taxis, waiting for trains, standing outside pass offices, outside pension offices, outside UIF offices… on and on it went, supermarkets, employment agencies, soccer stadiums… on and on and on… through the interminable centuries… until it seemed that bondage and servitude would be forever. And now standing in a queue outside a polling station was the most pleasant waiting of all. The sheer delight and ecstasy of it. The beauty of this symbolic act of putting an X on a piece of paper. This simple ceremony denied to people for over three centuries through the clandestine, surreptitious ways of indomitable rulers.

The other races were not used to the arduous task of standing in long queues. But they showed no reluctance today. It merely gave them an understanding of the patience and perseverance of black people all through their lives. There was a great deal of warmth amongst the people. It was as if magically they had all decided that for one day in their lives they were all going to live in peace and harmony. And they were succeeding admirably. This day was a momentous day; a day which marked the end of one epoch and the beginning of a new era. This day was symbolic of the golden millennium.

After several hours, as Ismail and his family moved nearer the school gate, he did not feel tired anymore. He felt he had waited all his life. He could wait longer. The queue was moving and getting shorter. Batches of ten people were coming out as a new group was allowed into the courtyard. There was another queue in the courtyard. But the patience of the people was remarkable. Ismail chatted with various people, and his wife an daughter talked with strangers who were strangers no more.

Ismail had his granddaughter Shakira with him, a the little girl just over a year old. She amused the crowd with her movements, grimaces and little antics. At so young an age she was in the presence of a voting station; something most people had not seen in all their lives.

The green turf in the courtyard was neatly trimmed and the flower boxes appeared beautiful in the dignified atmosphere of a stately school. At times there was an almost deathly silence in the waning light as sunset came over Homestead Park.

And now the moment of truth arrived. He was allowed courteously into the school hall, where the elaborate apparatus and machinery of democracy was assembled. There was special equipment to detect whether you had voted or not. Special ink to prevent you from fraudulently voting a second time.

Ismail glanced at several people as they proceeded towards the ominous screen to place their X in a secret ballot.

When he arrived at the next table, a young lady in a green sari asked courteously, “May I please see your I.D book?”

“Certainly”, said Ismail with equal courtesy.

He dipped his hand into the pocket of his tweed jacket, then into another, then began to feel uneasy as he shuffled from pocket to pocket. The moment of truth had arrived.

He had forgotten his I.D. book.

He nervously told his wife and daughter to complete their voting, saying that since it was late he would vote the next day. He felt utterly embarrassed. His wife and daughter whispered together that it was typical of him to be so irresponsible.

As he came out of the school hall he showed none of the elation the others had shown. But he moved briskly to give the impression that he had completed his tryst with destiny. He walked towards Third Avenue and on the pavement several black men were sitting. He wondered if they had voted or not. Perhaps they had done so already. One elderly man in a navy overall came up to him and hesitantly said,

“Please sir, I’m hungry. Can you buy me some bread?”

“Yes, I’ll buy you some bread,” Ismail said with kindness. “But tell me, did you vote today?”

The old man took out his creased and tattered I.D. book and said with glee, “Yes, I voted today for the first time in my life. But today I am very hungry. I would like a piece of bread, please”.

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