By Paul Ndiho
April 28th, 2014
South Africans head to the polls on May 7, with elections falling nearly exactly on the 20th anniversary of the first post-apartheid elections, held on April 27, 1994 – formally ending the racist regime known as apartheid.
April 27 marked the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first multiracial elections, which ended three centuries of white domination – and 46 years of formalized oppression of the black majority under the apartheid system.
Here in the United States, civil rights organization and activists alike stood in solidarity with the people of South Africa and the ruling African National Congress – ANC, which spearheaded the fight against apartheid, and has remained in power since 1994. Nicole lee is the president of Trans Africa, the organization that lead the free south Africa movement in the U.S. She says the country has not changed much.
“I think apartheid in itself was evil. It was built not only an ideology, but built upon structures. And so there was a lot of structural violence within the apartheid. That the fact that the political system is overturned that doesn’t mean the economic system is changed very much”
Critics of the government say that unemployment in South Africa is very high, at around 25 percent and labor unrest frequently halts production in the mainstay mining and auto sectors.
The violence at the Marikina platinum plant in 2012 still weighs heavily on the minds of many citizens. Police killed 34 miners who were striking for better wages.
Graphic images of bullet-riddled bodies of the workers were reminiscent of the country’s racist past and lee says the nation still has a long way to go.
“I think that the situation in South Africa still remains economically grave for many South Africans especially black South Africans, the lack of jobs, the lack of adequate health care, the lack of education, that’s still is a major factor.”
Despite the significant strides made in the last couple years in the areas of civil society, woman organizations, and community organizations, Nicole Lee explains that more needs to be done.
“There are a lot of changes that need to be made. And one of the things that Trans Africa does now we stand inside with the people of South Africa, with the civil society organization that are pushing for change. And we really think that is the appropriate place. That is where we stood during the partied and we stand there today.”
During the apartheid struggle, many Americans kept the anti-apartheid movement alive, particularly members of the African American community. They staged demonstrations in the churches, on campuses, in corporate boardrooms and trade union halls. Cecelie counts, was one of the protesters. She says it was a natural reaction for most African-Americans, because of the history of black people in America.
“In 1984 when the apartheid regime cracked down once again and it was broadcast on television we just had to channel that energy in protests. It was those actions of the apartheid government and the slowness of our own government to change its policy and recognize that it was wrong to support in the name of constructive engagement the apartheid regime that caused us to start civil disobedience. They were sit-ins, they’re arrests. It wasn’t just demonstrations, the demonstrations had been going on for some time – what was new was the civil disobedience.”
The fight to end apartheid was a global fight that had roots here in the United States. Key players in the anti-apartheid movement; including people like Randall Robinson, founder and former president of Trans Africa forum, advocates who later became members of congress like Maxine Walters, and others, led protests and called for U.S. sanctions against south Africa.
“The fact that apartheid ended with the help of the international community just gives us some hope that when people come together they can force change.”
The most prominent person of the apartheid era was the late nelson Mandela. The anti-apartheid hero died last December at the age of 95, but his legacy to South Africa and the world was his unwavering courage, forgiveness and hope, that touched and inspired people around the world. He showed that the dream of a just society is possible – and he challenged future generations to lead the way towards it.