Making History: The South African Election by Frances M. Beal >
Making History

Frances M. Beal introduces CrossRoads' "Building the New
South Africa" section and describes the scene on the ground
as millions of South Africans voted for the first time.

     Two analytic articles from South Africa -- written by
leading members of the African National Congress and South
African Communist Party -- comprise the heart of this
special issue of CrossRoads. Along with excerpts from the
ANC's Reconstruction and Development Program, these in-depth
evaluations address the sweep and complexity of South
Africa's history-making "transition of an unexpected type."
In introducing these articles, I will focus on another
aspect of South Africa's election: the outpouring of energy,
joy and spirit that accompanied the balloting. Having had
the privilege of spending six weeks in South Africa during
this amazing time, I also want to offer a few personal
observations about the significance of the South African

     "Here we are -- voting! I am about two inches taller
than before I came." The speaker was the diminutive
Archbishop Desmond Tutu sporting a joyous smile as he
emerged from a polling booth. Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk
and leaders of all political hues made statements and
headlines as they cast their ballots in first free, all-race
elections in South Africa's history. But it was in the
cities and townships and the rural areas where history was
really being made.
     The scene in the black township of Kwazekele on the
outskirts of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province was
typical. A column of people two miles long snaked around
tumbledown shacks and up a rutted dirt road. Expecting a
long wait, people had begun lining up at 5:00 a.m.
Gloriously proud, the people rested on chairs or boxes or
stood peacefully chatting with neighbors, as the line inched
forward. In the middle of the queue, a middle-aged woman
twirled a parasol as protection from the blistering sun.
It was then 10:30 and she had been on line for five hours,
stoically waiting to make her X next to the party of her
choice. She said she would be willing to wait a lot longer,
too. And wait longer she did, since this station was one of
many that was overwhelmed by the turnout and ran out of
     A similar story of determination unfolded in a nearby
rural farming area. This country village polling station was
designed to serve a 10-mile radius, and some farmworkers
arose as early as 3:00 a.m. to get to it. One woman was seen
arriving in a wheel barrow. Many who voted there could
neither read nor write -- some had never held a pen or
pencil before -- but they were able to point to the party
colors or the leader or say the name.
     I asked how people felt: "I felt happy," one 73-year-
old woman leaning on a cane replied. "I felt proud," said
one man. "I feel hope for a better future for our children,"
said one elderly Chinese man. Beneath these modest words was
an unmistakable exultation that could be read in a gleaming
eye or seen on a beaming, wrinkled face.
     The joyful spirit of millions could not be quashed
despite the logistical chaos that reigned in many black
areas. Some stations ran out of ballot papers or ink or
pencils, some failed to open on time or -- in some of the
former bantustans -- failed to open at all. The counting
process was equally chaotic. The Independent Electoral
Commission (IEC) responsible for running the elections and
ensuring that they were free and fair came under a lot of
criticism -- for ineptness, and consciously undermining the
logistics as a means of keeping the ANC vote down.
     The vote counting procedure itself was incredibly time
consuming. Each party (and there were up to 10 contending in
some areas) had a representative at each table, the IEC had
several people who did the counting, and there were
independent monitors present as well. An IEC official would
hold up each ballot and call out the party's name and show
it to all these people in a sweep around the table. It took
hours and hours to count votes this way. In the Eastern Cape
votes from the white areas were counted first, and initially
the National Party's total was close to the ANC's. But when
the ballots from Kwazekele and the other Black townships
began to be tallied the surge began. In the counting room
the sound kept ringing out" "ANC! ANC! ANC! ANC! ANC!" It
sounded like a partisan chant, but it wasn't. It was simply
the votes from townships being counted. One ballot box from
Kwazekele was typical: ANC-1,519; PAC-10; DP-1; NP-1.
     When all the hoopla was over, the ANC's mandate was
clear. The Congress garnered 62.7 percent of the national
vote and earned 252 out of the 400 National Assembly seats.
They won outright in seven of the nine provinces and have
significant minorities in the other two. The electoral
process itself was extremely inclusive; there was a
proportional representational system in which any party
garnering at least one-half of one percent (55,000 votes)
got a parliamentary seat and all parties with five percent
were guaranteed a seat in the cabinet.
     During the election campaign it had been violence that
got most of the headlines. But the hidden story was the
sophistication and extent of campaign discussion on basic
political, social and economic issues. Apartheid's
restrictions were crumbling and a tumult of new voices from
the grassroots made themselves heard: a still-fragmented but
growing women's movement, a gay and lesbian movement,
advocates of civil liberties, and rural groups. Issues were
raised that will move front-burner in the future: abortion
rights, affirmative action, interpretations of the new Bill
of Rights, the role of the newly established constitutional
court, how to deal with customary law (traditions that have
regulated many communities especially in the spheres of
marriage and family, often stripping women of all rights).
The vital issues of truly democratizing the police and
security forces and dealing with the all-important land
question were placed center-stage. These all became issues
for millions; the campaign had a deep politicizing effect --
quite different from the sleep-inducing electoral process
that we are most familiar with in the U.S.
     The election's impact spills out from South Africa to
affect the region and the entire world. Gugile Nkwinti, head
of the ANC's election effort in the Eastern Cape, spoke of
the ways "the apartheid regime committed atrocities in
southern Africa and destabilized the region." Now the
peoples of Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe and all of Africa
have an ally instead of a murderous opponent directing South
Africa's foreign and military policy. More than symbolism is
at work here: the ANC has promised to encourage the
development of joint projects to develop regional water
resources, electricity and energy supply, transport and
telecommunications, and agricultural and food production. As
these programs take shape, heavily industrialized South
Africa can become a progressive powerhouse for the entire
African continent.
     The new ANC government is also poised to assume a
prominent role in global affairs. The apartheid regime was
an international pariah; now President Nelson Mandela can
speak to the world with unique moral and political authority
on every issue facing humanity. South Africa will play a new
role in all international institutions: the country has
already rejoined the Commonwealth, membership in the
Organization of African States is assured, a new role will
be carved out at the United Nations. During a period when
progressive movements worldwide have taken many beatings, it
is uplifting to realize that a determined democratic force
now governs an industrialized, powerful nation.
     Though I have been back in the U.S. for several weeks
now, I feel many times a day that I'm still in the grip of
my experience in South Africa. And of all the vivid
impressions that impacted me there, the joy of joys was
being in a situation where the majority of people held
nothing but the highest respect for South Africa's
communists. So many members of the South African Communist
Party gave their lives to end apartheid; veteran communists
and thousands of new party members are now devoting
themselves to the democratic tasks of the new era. Of the
252 ANC National Assembly members, 49 are members of the
SACP and nine of these have been appointed to cabinet posts.
As my co-editor Myesha Jenkins wrote in her election day
letter in CrossRoads previous issue: What a time to be
     Frances M. Beal and other Bay Area participants in the
South Africa Media Project will report on their experience
and lead a discussion on the complex political realities
facing South Africa this July 9. The event will be a benefit
for CrossRoads 1994 Fund Drive; donations of $10-25 (sliding
scale) will be appreciated: Saturday, July 9, 2-5 p.m., 805
57th St. in Oakland; refreshments will be served. Call 510-
843-7495 for more information.