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1 VOTE, 1 BLOW TO INJUSTICE S. AFRICAN ADMAN TAKES 1ST STEP IN LONG JOURNEY

By Published on .

JOHANNESBURG-Three months after I was born in 1948, the National Party government came to power on an apartheid ticket.

If ever there was a product of apartheid, it certainly was me. Five years later, I entered school when the detested Bantu education system, which consisted of separate lower quality schools for blacks, was introduced.

According to the system, among many abominations, African people were supposed to enter school only after reaching age 7, so my parents had to lie about my age. Yes indeed, apartheid turned us all into a nation of liars.

Having been born into a politically conscious family, I was more acutely aware (on a rational level) than many of my black compatriots about the injustices of apartheid. I also knew that there absolutely was no way the evil system of apartheid could survive no matter how much Western countries supported the abhorrent system. So there never was any doubt in my mind that someday I surely was going to make my cross on a ballot paper.

Now because this country has not had a true democratic system the past three centuries and also because African people had never voted before in acceptable political structures, HerdBuoys Advertising, my agency, was appointed by a consortium of non-governmental organizations to embark on a voter education campaign.

The campaign covered mundane (but completely unknown) issues such as the concept of democracy, the secrecy of the ballot, canvassing (not intimidation!), political tolerance, the role of election monitors, etc.

Based on what I myself learned from this campaign, I was certain I would simply waltz through the polling station ...

The day before polling day, my daughter Zizwe, who had just turned 18, suggested that we should not vote 5 minutes from my home in Sandton (an elite town north of Johannesburg that is historically a white area) but on Vundla Drive, a street named after her late grandfather 45 minutes away in Rockville, Soweto. I latched onto the idea, the symbolism.

Additionally, Soweto would be safer as a white khaki-clad bomber would be quite visible in black Soweto! On Election Day, the rest of the family (including the younger non-voters) jumped into the car and off we were to Soweto. The sense of people on a historic mission was tangible inside the car. Yes, we were going to correct past injustices with our big votes; we were going to show whitey what civilization and human dignity were all about!

As we entered the sprawling township at about 11 a.m., a carnival atmosphere abounded. For once, everybody felt and looked happy. Suddenly, we were all smiling and recognizing each other as people, all brothers and sisters on a mission for God. We were not verbalizing our feelings, but we all tacitly were saying to each other: Now is our time.

The queue at the polling station was not as long as expected. There were local and international press people all over. Joe Menell, a TV producer working on a Mandela documentary, pulled me off the line for an interview and started bombarding me with questions: What feelings was I going through? What of the future?

I mumbled some incoherent responses. Damn it, I was not listening to his questions! Helen Suzman, one of the independent electoral commissioners, dropped by, followed by a phalanx of journalists.

"Helen!" I called out and she came to us. Jokingly, I say to her, "This here my daughter will not vote for my choice of political party. I am an African man, and whatever I tell her to do, she must obey! Now surely, that's not intimidation?" There are laughs all round.

The queue moves swiftly. Then I entered the classroom-cum-voting station. It looked so remarkably ordinary, with no historical purpose. What an anticlimax, how disappointing. I pulled myself together and brought to bear all my voter education experience.

I wasn't going to spoil my vote. Relax, relax, I told myself.

Suddenly, it was all over, almost like an unfulfilled orgasm. Was this what people had fought and died for? Was it really worth it? Then it struck me: My vote and my compatriots' are not going to obliterate apartheid and its legacy overnight. Apartheid would continue to manifest itself in so many ways in decades to come.

Past injustices, the huge housing backlog, the educational mess, a sick health system, massive unemployment, unequal distribution of wealth, etc., etc., would remain for at least two decades to come.

But a beginning had been made, with one innocuous cross denied me for 46 years.M

Mr. Vundla is managing director of HerdBuoys, the only black-owned ad agency in South Africa.

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