I was 21. Fresh-faced as a Crearasil ad and thought I knew everything about life and “stuff”. That was 1994, when I stood in line for hours along with millions of South Africans to cast my vote for the first time. Ahead of me in the line my American boyfriend (now long-gone ex-husband) who could not vote but simply “had to be therrre man” (in a Californian twang). My dream was that casting my vote would be the key to opening new doors of opportunity – for myself and every non-white South African. My entire high school career and a significant number of primary school years were highlighted by being chased home from school by SAPS in Caspers spewing tear-gas and avoiding the burning tyres and rocks being thrown in the main roads. It was time for change. Back In 1994 the choice of party to vote for was clear – vote ANC! Nelson Mandela for first black president of South Africa! And so it came to pass – Nelson Mandela was sworn in as first black president of South Africa in May 1994, 15 years ahead of Barack Obama who became first black president of the USA in 2009 – what on earth took the USA so long?
There are 10 days to go to the polls on 7th May, marking 20 years since South Africa became a free and democratic society. I have only 10 days to decide which party has our country’s best interests at heart in order to mark my X. Sadly for me, the glory of the African National Congress is gone, their former glory extinguished by corruption, fraud, cronyism, maladministration and a polygamist President constantly making headlines for all the wrong reasons. I’m torn between my gratitude for the forefathers of the party – Mandela, Sisulu, Kathrada and many others who risked their lives and that of their families during the Apartheid struggle so that I may enjoy freedom now. Today I am disappointed by the declining standards of education, the high rate of unemployment, the lack of basic services and the daily-declining ZAR. Who gets my X is a constant battle between head and heart.
Be that as it may, I still find myself in better circumstances than a vast majority of my countrymen – 20 years ago I did not even have a passport, today I’m filling up passport number 2, still in disbelief of the places I’ve travelled to and the things I’ve experienced. For many South Africans overseas travel is a luxury they will never get to experience. I have 4 dress sizes in my cupboard – I’m spoilt for choice – a constant reminder of my ever-changing body and a testament to the fact that I have never known what it is to go hungry. And yet for too many South Africans it is a daily struggle to put a plate of food on the table, the gap between the haves and the have nots ever increasing.
We have come a long way as South Africans, but there is still a long road ahead to achieve a society where everyone reaps the benefits of freedom, where our children receive the best, affordable education, where most citizens are employed, where clean running water and an inside toilet is not a daily obstacle. I must make the right choice. And although, much like our present government, my life has not quite turned out quite as I had envisioned it would 20 years ago, I am fortunate and conscious of the fact that I am free – the master of my fate, captain of my soul.
Nkosi sikilele iAfrika.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.