1994

Part two

Dear friends, I am so humbled by your support and encouragement – thank you!

Oom Ray invited me to join him on many adventures, meetings and a conference or two. 

Circa 1991 or thereabouts the late Chris Hani and Oom Ray were invited to address an ANC rally in King Williamstown.  I was invited to accompany Oom Ray, what an amazing experience it turned out to be, hundreds of folk turned out, singing, chanting, dancing and ululating.  I enjoyed every single second, except when I asked directions to the bathroom, a young woman was assigned to escort me.  “Why?” I asked, to which Oom Ray responded, rather impatiently, “because you are with me and I want it that way!”   In actual fact, I was the only white woman in attendance and there were always external forces at the ready to cause harm and division.

Just for a moment I would like to focus on my dear friend, the late Chris Hani.  He was such an incredible person, loving, kind with a very wicked sense of humour.  He would be deeply disappointed at the shenanigans of the day.  However, my late father (a Methodist Minister) was horrified when he discovered that I was involved with a “bunch of communists and Chris Hani to boot”.  In one of my discussions with Chris I mentioned my father’s outrage.  He very calmly suggested that I arrange a meeting between the two of them, which I duly did.  The discussion was frank, open, friendly and at times humorous.  In fact it was a wonderful encounter for both men; they parted, each understanding the other.  A couple of days later in discussion with my father he talked at length about the negative influence of the press, how Chris had been demonised and he (my father) had to face up to and own his prejudices – never an easy or comfortable space for anyone, however, certainly a necessary one.

The Apartheid system in South Africa was ended through a series of bilateral and multi-party negotiations between 1990 and 1993.  The negotiations culminated in the passage to an interim Constitution in 1993, a precursor to the Constitution of 1996; and in South Africa’s first non-racial elections in 1994. *

The African National Congress advertised various positions to assist with and drive the first democratic elections.  I applied and was appointed as an administrator on a 12 month contract. Almost overnight the African National Congress had to work towards moving away from a liberation movement to a political party.  Not an easy task at all.

In my capacity as Administrator, I was required to control the budget, in that, I submitted our needs list,  to Luthuli House on a monthly basis, I hated that task passionately, as I always ensured that we stuck strictly to the budget, if we were required to purchase office furniture, that’s what we did!  I was always  in trouble with our local leadership, because I refused to deviate from the budget.  However, we all survived the arguments and disagreements.   In general we worked hard; we faced many challenges and very interesting situations.  We laughed a lot and sometimes I shouted and I cried.  I am proud to say that most of us always managed to resolve our differences amicably. 

A very dark moment in our history on the 25 August 1993,  Amy Biehl a young Fulbright Scholar and anti-Apartheid Activist, while dropping three friends off in Gugulethu was murdered by a group of youngsters   There were incidents and influences that tried to destabilise a country on the brink of a new dispensation.   We all had to be vigilant and cautious.

In as much as there were dark and difficult moments, there were many more positive and upbeat events.

One of our very first fundraising / marketing events was a banquet at the Edward Hotel; the purpose of this event was to introduce a “government in waiting” to the public at large. 

Cyril Ramaphosa was in great demand and everyone wanted to meet this charismatic man who along with Roelf Meyer (the government’s chief negotiator) in the Multiparty Negotiating Forum, had effectively led us to a new dispensation.  The evening was well attended, Cyril was erudite, charming and composed, and he answered each and every question with great dignity and at times with a good dollop of humour and patience.

A group of very influential local CEO’s invited Nelson Mandela to join them for dinner and discussions.    I was tasked with arranging a suitable restaurant to host such an event, given the enormity of the task in terms of security and sensitivity I approached  The Ranch Restaurant ( a very popular and well known establishment)  owned by George and Maria Frangopoulos, to assist us in hosting this event.  I will never forget the expressions on their faces when we, (ANC Security and I) met with them to secure a reservation for our very important guest as well as discuss protocols and security. 

The Frangopoulos family went out of their way to make the evening successful.  They were gracious and patient when we had to continuously ensure everyone would be safe, every hour ANC security staff checked and re-checked the building.  We only informed the Waitresses and Kitchen staff an hour before the function started that our guest was Madiba.  We briefed the staff on protocol.   In the end the only person who did not stick to protocol was Madiba, he was a security nightmare. He refused to listen to anyone and did exactly as he pleased.  Because he was so charming we all forgave him.  In fact Madiba walked around the restaurant going from table to table introducing himself to everyone, Gill Marcus pleaded with me to get him to leave.  He simply refused to listen and ignored all of us. I will never ever forget that night, one of the highlights of my life.

Apart from introducing the ANC to the business community, teachers, leaders and the public at large, a very important aspect was voter education.

The voter education group were very creative, in that they set up a mock polling station in Njoli Square. 

They created sample ballot papers, rubber stamps and layout of the polling station, thereby educating every single person in how “to cast their vote”.   Unfortunately because of Amy Biehl’s death I was not allowed to visit the polling station or any township for that matter.  

My curiosity got the better of me and I convinced two of my friends who were in charge of our security detail to drive me slowly past the polling station.  

It was a very painful experience seeing intelligent and dignified people, young and old learning how to cast their vote, how did we allow this to happen, strip folks of their right to vote!

All too soon Election Day was upon us, being our very first democratic election, voting would take place between 26 and 29 April.  The government declared that period as a public holiday, schools, banks and businesses were closed for trading ensuring that every eligible voter had an opportunity to cast their vote.  As you can imagine, it was a crazy time. Observers were appointed to be present at every rural polling station.  On the eve of our first election, the office was full of excited people, with their bags and baggage waiting to be transported to their designated polling station, when my Supervisor approached me in a panic.  We desperately needed an extra R30 000-00 to cover expenses and the banks were closed.  I phoned a friend of mine who owned a café/gaming shop in Main Street, fortunately for us he had decided against banking any takings until after the elections. Accompanied by my two favourite Security officials we walked down the stairwell between St Patrick’s Road and Main Street to Arthur’s shop. I handed over a signed cheque and in return received the cash in a Checkers bag; casually we walked back to the office. 

Those days flew by in a chaotic blur, we worked very hard, experienced very tense moments when polling stations ran out of ballot papers, and heaved a collective sigh of relief at the patience, the camaraderie, love and fellowship of South Africans in those very long queues.

To be continued …

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Thank you dear friends.

References:

*Wikipedia – Negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa

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4 comments

  • This was an exciting and hopeful time to be living in SA. You were so fortunate to be able to be part of the process.

  • Michelle

    Such an exciting life you lead Gail – you have such wonderful memories to share with us. Thank you. You looked absolutely gorgeous in the photos.

  • What an exciting time – we turned what most thought would be a bloodbath into a miracle of hope