27 April 2010

A celebration of freedom: 16 years of democracy

A poster calling for free and fair elections. [SAHA Poster Collection ::  AL2446_0712]

In 1994, the first non-racial democratic election took place on the 27th of April. For the first time in South African history, all citizens over the age of 18 were given the opportunity to cast their vote. For centuries, South Africa had not been democratic, and the majority of its people had not been free. To commemorate this important milestone, the date has become an official public holiday. It is a symbol of the political freedoms, human rights and non-racialism enshrined in the South African Bill of Rights.

The election was held after a period of protracted violence and political insecurity throughout the country. The peaceful nature of the elections set a precedent for the establishment of a new society, committed to the eradication of racialism, prejudice and state-sanctioned terror. We also remember those who fought for our freedoms : the countless number of people who fought for freedom: those who died in police custody; who fought from underground; who spent days, months and, too often, years in prison without trial.

To truly appreciate our freedom, we must never forget our heritage, pock-marked by the oppression, inhumanity and suffering that affected so many  South Africans. The 1994 election brought political freedom to the long-suffering South African population. It gave hope to millions, and cast South Africa in a new light across the globe. But it could not undo the effects of apartheid; millions still suffer within a system of structural inequality. Freedom Day provides a space for South Africans to commit themselves to the eradication of institutionalized poverty.

Related SAHA collections: a focus on freedom

The following SAHA collections which are particularly rich in material related to the transitional period leading up to, and including, South Africa's first democratic election in 1994:

AL2916 :: The Khalik Mayet Collection
As deputy legal advisor to the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) between 1993-1994, and a delegate to the multiparty negotiations in Kempton Park prior to South Africa's first democratic elections, Mayet's papers provide insight into the delicate process of creating a new democracy out of the ashes of apartheid

AL3013 :: The Barbara Hogan Collection
As an active member of the African National Congress since 1976, Hogan has played a significant role in the creation of South Africa's democracy, particularly her role in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), as well as her work in the repatriation of political exiles.

AL3078 :: The Multi-Party Negotiations Collection
Negotiating a new South Africa after apartheid was officially dismantled was a difficult process; South Africa's future was at stake. This collection provides insight into these negotiations, as well as the subsequent discussions leading up to the first ever democratic, free and fair elections in South Africa in 1994.

AL3081 :: The John Barratt Collection
During the transition, the Sub-council of Foreign Affairs of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) was responsible for securing cooperation from international governments, as well as homelands. The process is detailed in documentation held in this collection.

A sample of the ballot paper used during the 1994 election [AL2446_0686]