Letter from South Africa: What A Time To Be Alive!
What A Time To Be Alive

Myesha Jenkins sends an election day letter from South
Africa.

     Myesha Jenkins was an anti-apartheid activist in the
U.S. for 20-plus years; then in April 1993 she picked up and
moved to Johannesburg, fulfilling a long time dream. In
Johannesburg, Myesha works as the South Africa Coordinator
of the U.S.-South Africa Sister Community Project,
facilitating links between 12 communities in South Africa
and their sister cities in the U.S. For the election, Myesha
coordinated the work of six U.S. journalists who traveled to
South Africa sponsored by the South Africa Media Project,
and also of many other U.S. activists who came for the April
26-28 balloting. Myesha is also CrossRoads South Africa
correspondent, and she is presently preparing next month's
special issue focusing on the world-shaking events that have
brought apartheid to an end. (The issue will be co-edited by
CrossRoads Board member Frances M. Beal, who travelled to
South Africa with the Media Project.) On the day of the
voting, Myesha sent the following letter.

     Well the election is on. What a day. Moving, tense,
celebratory, dignified. Masses of people in the streets,
long lines, waiting and waiting. Lots of smiles.
     I didn't get very involved in this, deliberately.
Having 15 people in South Africa from the Bay Area meant
that I was already overwhelmed. For once I recognized my
limitations and was content to keep in phone contact with
the folks in East London, Venda, Cape Town and Port
Elizabeth; I planned to be a spectator and watch it all on
TV.
     But this morning when Walter, Steve and Nesbit couldn't
get my car started, I allowed myself to be convinced to
drive to Soweto, to interview folks at the voting stations.
And all of a sudden, I was involved.
     I had no idea where I was going but we found ourselves
in Meadowlands and found the polls by following the many,
many people walking in the same direction. Hundreds of
people snaking from the school out of the yard into the
street around the corner and back around. Quietly standing,
waiting, laughing, talking, waiting. Yesterday was supposed
to have been voting day for the elderly, the disabled and
pregnant women, but they were all there today as well.
     It was quite a sight to see the incredible mix of Black
people, old young, middle aged, some with babies, kids
playing along side.
     Nothing but determination on their faces. At 7 a.m.,
some had already been waiting for four hours; and
unfortunately some had to wait much longer as logistics
weren't quite together in all too many polling places. But
people waited. And they told us they'd wait all day if they
had to.
     "What will the new government do for you?" It will give
me a job and a house. It will bring us peace in this
country. It means we are free. "How do  you feel right now?"
I feel happy. For the first time I can say who I want to be
this government. I feel good.
     Over and over again. We went to another poll in
Soweto, to find the same thing. And we started to see the
long lines everywhere. Coming back into town, the sight was
the same. And it didn't matter whether we were talking to
the brothers in the line near my house, or the sisters in
the line up the street, or the group in the line at the rec
center. The TV showed the same thing, ALL OVER THE COUNTRY!
     There were lots of problems with the actual vote. No
one actually knows how many people are in the country or
where they are, so it was impossible to really predict what
was needed where. Some ballots were missing the IFP sticker,
supposedly affixed at the bottom. They ran out of ballots in
places. Polls didn't open on time because of lack of
equipment or ballots or staff. Trucks broke down, unable to
make their delivery of ballots, polling stations, invisible
ink. Big, big logistical problems all over the country.
     A bomb went off in the international section of the
Johannesburg airport. The last in a series of blasts that
have rocked Joburg, rocked the country killing 21 and
injuring over 150 people. There have been numerous bombs at
polling stations and other locations that didn't injure
people. It has been an assault in a clear attempt to strike
fear in the hearts of everyone to make them stay away from
the polls, to disrupt the election. The police say they've
arrested 30 men, including the brains behind the operation.
     But while the white right cannot stop the new democracy
from being born, they are sending a message that they can
terrorize the New South Africa and make plenty of problems
for the new government.
     But they definitely can't stop anything. People are
clearly determined, no matter what. Their faces grow grave
with concern when you talk about the bombings, there is a
tension and alertness in town. But today, looking at the
lines and talking to the people, it was as if people were
even more determined to create this new democracy.
     Tomorrow is another day, declared a national holiday to
accommodate all those who want to vote. And tomorrow morning
I'll go to Alexandra and Eldorado Park and talk to more
people with my journalist friends.
     There was a story of the first babies to be born at the
Alex Clinic -- named Freedom, Happiness and Thankful.
     What a time to be alive.