Written by 15:38 World

The Deadly Prelude to South Africa’s First Free Elections

Thirty years ago, Black South Africans voted for the first time as the country celebrated the monumental birth of a democracy. As I write this, South Africa is bathed in warm winter sunlight and South Africans are free.

That day, April 27, 1994, changed the lives of everyone in the country. I was there. But I can only vaguely remember it.

I do, however, vividly remember the cost in human lives that led to that victorious day, as what amounted to a proxy war fueled by elements of the apartheid state pitted ethnic groups against one another. Those who hoped the bloodshed would derail democratic negotiations conveniently called it Black-on-Black violence.

Four years passed between Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and that first real election. In that time, as the apartheid government slowly settled the terms of its dissolution with political leaders it had long sought to suppress, 14,000 people died violently.

Many South Africans have perhaps chosen to forget. Younger ones may simply not know. But here is what I saw in the months before the vote.

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Last modified: 27 May 2024
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