fb

David O’Sullivan Shares Memories Of the 1994 Election

By David O’Sullivan 

This past week, I was trawling through an old filing cabinet crammed with yellowing documents, dusty boxes of cassettes and piles of unsorted, haphazard photographs. I was searching for pictures taken on 27 April 1994 when, while working as a freelancer for a number of international radio networks (while pretending to be an articled clerk at Webber Wentzel), I ended up in Soweto in the late afternoon at a polling booth with a mercifully short queue. That’s where I voted in the first democratic election.

It was the end of a long day which had started in a mood of uncertainty and trepidation in the early Autumn chill outside the George Goch hostel south-east of the Joburg CBD. Since it was a public holiday, there was no need for me to put on my polyester suit and thin tie and report for duty at Webber Wentzel. I was free to pursue my freelance career as a radio correspondent for the London-based Independent Radio News Network (IRN), for whom I had been the South African correspondent for over five years starting in my days at Capital Radio.

The 1994 election day is now best remembered for the long queues of patient voters who ensured that South Africa defied all expectations and made the transition from a minority totalitarian regime to democracy without descending to a chaotic civil war. What tends to be forgotten is how volatile the country was at that time. Political violence was rife and I had spent much of my time covering the bloodshed, massacres and bomb blasts that dominated South African life.

On the morning of the election, the threat of right-wing violence was very real. The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) had vowed to intensify a bombing campaign to disrupt the poll. The bombs started exploding two weeks earlier and continued at regular intervals. It was impossible to know where they would strike. There were attacks in what was then Western Transvaal (now North West). There were explosions at an Independent Electoral Commission office in Braamfontein, at taxi ranks in Germiston, Westonaria and Randfontein, at a restaurant in Pretoria and at a fuel pipeline in the Free State. I don’t remember the exact number of dead and injured.

The biggest attack came on the Sunday before the election when a massive 70kg car bomb exploded in the Johannesburg city centre on the corner of Bree and Von Wielligh Streets. It was one of the biggest terror attacks in the country. 9 people were killed and 92 others were injured in the blast which left a huge crater in the road and shattered windows far and wide. The noise was so loud that residents to the north of the city thought a bomb had gone off in their neighbourhood, leading to some confusion about how many bombs there’d been. Had the bomb gone off later in the week when the streets were busier, the death toll would have been far higher.

There was every expectation that the right-wing bombing campaign would intensify on election day. In that fearful climate, and with animosity still simmering between the ANC and the IFP, the first democratic elections began.

READ: On the 8th of May, South Africans will go to the general elections to elect a new National Assembly and provincial legislatures in each province.

Anticipating where the story is likely to happen is always a combination of guess work and good luck. Thus far in my career, I hadn’t done too badly in choosing my locations. On Election Day, I decided to head off to a potentially volatile place. I opted for an Inkatha stronghold, given that the Inkatha Freedom Party had decided to take part in the elections just weeks earlier. Even then some Inkatha members were against the decision, angry that not all their demands for inclusion on the ballot had been met.

A few days earlier in Tokoza on the East Rand, two IFP supporters had been shot dead by unknown attackers as they were returning from a rally. In Durban an attack on a bus carrying ANC supporters to a rally addressed by Nelson Mandela had caused significant casualties. Tension was high and I figured the residents of George Goch hostel might give us clues as to what could happen later in the day. It seemed as good a place as any to start the day.

I headed off to the drab, depressing hostel complex with a couple of other freelance mates early that morning. The place was already buzzing with activity when we arrived. But far from the anticipated tension and anger, we found the hostel residents in a buoyant mood, getting ready to head out to their nearest polling station when the doors opened at 7am. We hung around for a while, just to be sure we weren’t going to miss a story. Little did we know that we actually had the beginnings of the real story of that day – the start of the peaceful, patient ballot.

Our pagers started beeping with news alerts as the various political leaders started casting their ballots. Nelson Mandela was at the Ohlange High School in Inanda, outside Durban. The story was happening far away from where we were.

And then an alert from a police spokesman, Captain Wikus Weber. A bomb had gone off at Johannesburg International Airport. It had to be the right-wing again. We rushed to airport, but were too late to see anything. The whole area was cordoned off by police and we got nowhere near the blast scene. We relied on police updates to file our stories. It turned out that a white man had driven a car up the ramp in front of international departures and ran from the vehicle as it exploded. The blast caused extensive damage and injured about 20 people.

We could only anticipate that this was the first of many more attacks on the elections. But as morning passed, there were no further reports of violence. I met up with a few foreign correspondents who had flown in to cover the elections. One of them was a fabulous journalist named George Matheson, who worked for IRN in London, as well as two Swedish journalists from Aftonbladet who were staying in my garden cottage in Westdene.

This was George’s second visit to South Africa. On his first occasion, I had picked him up at the airport, dropped his bags at his Braamfontein hotel, and headed straight to Soweto. We had seen smoke billowing from an area in Diepkloof and headed there. As we were driving down a main road, I saw a group of people stoning vehicles ahead of us. We were heading straight into the danger. In my rear view mirror, I saw a military troop transport carrier known as a Casspir approaching. As it passed me on my left, I tucked in next to it and used it as a shield as we drove past the stone-throwers. We could hear the rocks thudding against the Casspir, leaving us unscathed.

 

O'Sullivan Shares Memories Of the 1994 Election

Shortly afterwards we had come across a gun battle between police and local activists quite near the old FNB Stadium. So within two hours after first arriving in South Africa, George had survived being stoned and was now dodging live ammunition and rubber bullets. To round off a memorable morning for him, we got caught in a cloud of teargas and decided to get the hell out of Soweto. George dined out on that story. When he saw me on that Election Day morning, he was laughing nervously. “I don’t want another day like that, OK?”

It wasn’t a day like that. It was worth remembering what we had been through and the level of violence that could have happened. But it didn’t. The rest of that day is a bit of a blur. I remember that we drove around the city, randomly selecting polling stations and witnessing the same story wherever we went – the long queues of patient voters of all races.

READ: Time for Africa to refashion its democratic model

I had my ID book in my pocket and tried to vote at the various polling stations we visited. But my foreign colleagues were impatient to keep moving and there was no time to vote.

Eventually, we ended up in Soweto. I can’t remember precisely where we found a polling station to talk to the local residents, getting colour for the latest round of stories. George pointed out the queue was short. So I finally had my chance to vote.

Casting my ballot in Soweto was particularly poignant. I knew it would be a once-off, that next time I would be voting where I lived. But the rules were different for that inaugural election. Everything was different. When I first started coming into Soweto to visit my Rhodes University friend Mandla Mashigo in the early 1980s, I had to do so illegally because I didn’t have a permit. I had witnessed so much strife in Soweto in the past 8 years. I had worked in the township through the dark days of the State of Emergency when we could report very little of the violence we had seen. Now, free from any concerns that I would be breaking the law, I was in Soweto playing my small part in ushering the country into the new democracy. I made myself savour the moment as I dropped my ballot into the box.

Then George said, “where to next?”. The moment was over and we headed off to the next polling station. No further bombs went off and we didn’t get shot at or teargassed. South Africans had pulled off a miracle. Against all the odds.

David O’Sulllivan is the host of Breakfast With David on Kaya 959, Monday – Thursday.

    Don’t miss out on the latest local news, interviews and competitions.

    Don’t miss out on the latest local news, interviews and competitions.

    Receive the latest news

    Subscribe To Our Newsletter

    THE KAYA 959 APP NOW AVAILABLE

    DOWNLOAD YOURS NOW

    Copyright Notice

    1. COPYRIGHT

    1.1 The contents of this Website, including but not limited to its compilation and arrangement, is the exclusive property of Kaya 959, alternatively the suppliers of content to Kaya 959, and accordingly remain protected by South African and International Copyright and Trademark laws.

    1.2 Any person accessing this Website, may not, save for downloading one copy for their personal computers and solely for their private and non-commercial use :

    1.2.1 Copy, disseminate, distribute, advertise, publish, adapt, modify or in any way reproduce the contents of this website for commercial purposes, unless this notice and any disclaimer attached thereto is published in its entirety, or unless the permission of Kaya 959 is obtained in writing.

    Privacy Policy

    THIS PRIVACY STATEMENT FORMS PART OF KAYA 959’S TERMS OF USE POLICY. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH ANY TERM OF THIS PRIVACY STATEMENT, YOU MUST CEASE YOUR ACCESS OF THIS WEBSITE IMMEDIATELY. 

    POPIA ActTo promote the protection of personal information processed by public and private bodies; to introduce certain conditions so as to establish minimum requirements for the processing of personal information; to provide for the establishment of an Information Regulator to exercise certain powers and to perform certain duties and functions in terms of this Act and the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000; to provide for the issuing of codes of conduct; to provide for the rights of persons regarding unsolicited electronic communications and automated decision making; to regulate the flow of personal information across the borders of the Republic; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

    RECOGNISING THAT—

    • section 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides that everyone has the right to privacy;
    • the right to privacy includes a right to protection against the unlawful collection, retention, dissemination and use of personal information;
    • the State must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights;

    AND BEARING IN MIND THAT—

    • consonant with the constitutional values of democracy and openness, the need for economic and social progress, within the framework of the information society, requires the removal of unnecessary impediments to the free flow of information, including personal information;

    AND IN ORDER TO—

    • regulate, in harmony with international standards, the processing of personal information by public and private bodies in a manner that gives effect to the right to privacy subject to justifiable limitations that are aimed at protecting other rights and important interests,
    1. Definitions and Interpretation

    1.1.“Personal Information” means information relating to an identifiable, living, natural person and where it is applicable, identifiable, existing juristic person, including all information as defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013. 

    1.2  Parliament assented to POPIA on 19 November 2013. The commencement date of section 1Part A of Chapter 5section 112 and section 113 was 11 April 2014. The commencement date of the other sections was 1 July 2020 (with the exception of section 110 and 114(4). The President of South Africa has proclaimed the POPI commencement date to be 1 July 2020.

     
    1.3. “Processing” means the creation, generation, communication, storage, destruction of personal information as more fully defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013.  

    1.4. “You” or the “user” means any person who accesses and browses this website for any purpose. 

    1.4. “Website” means the website of the KAYA 959 at URL www.kaya959.co.za or such other URL as KAYA 959 may choose from time to time.   

    1. Status and Amendments

    2.1. KAYA 959 respects your privacy. This privacy policy statement sets out KAYA 959’s information gathering and dissemination practices in respect of the Website. 

    2.2. This Privacy Policy governs the processing of personal information provided to KAYA 959 through your use of the Website. 

    2.3. Please note that, due to legal and other developments, KAYA 959 may amend these terms and conditions from time to time.  

    1. Processing of Personal Information

    3.1. By providing your personal information to KAYA 959 you acknowledge that it has been collected directly from you and consent to its processing by KAYA 959. 

    3.2. Where you submit Personal Information (such as name, address, telephone number and email address) via the website (e.g. through completing any online form) the following principles are observed in the processing of that information: 

    3.2.1. KAYA 959 will only collect personal information for a purpose consistent with the purpose for which it is required. The specific purpose for which information is 
    collected will be apparent from the context in which it is requested. 

    3.2.2. KAYA 959 will only process personal information in a manner that is adequate, relevant and not excessive in the context of the purpose for which it is processed. 

    3.2.3. Personal information will only be processed for a purpose compatible with that for which it was collected, unless you have agreed to an alternative purpose in writing or KAYA 959 is permitted in terms of national legislation of general application dealing primarily with the protection of personal information. 

    3.2.4. KAYA 959 will keep records of all personal Information collected and the specific purpose for which it was collected for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

    3.2.5. KAYA 959 will not disclose any personal information relating to you to any third party unless your prior written agreement is obtained or KAYA 959 is required to do so by law. 

    3.2.6. If personal information is released with your consent KAYA 959 will retain a record of the information released, the third party to which it was released, the reason for the release and the date of release, for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

    3.2.7. KAYA 959 will destroy or delete any personal information that is no longer needed by KAYA 959 for the purpose it was initially collected, or subsequently processed. 

    3.3. Note that, as permitted by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002, KAYA 959 may use personal information collected to compile profiles for statistical purposes. No information contained in the profiles or statistics will be able to be linked to any specific user.    

    1. Collection of anonymous data

    4.1. KAYA 959 may use standard technology to collect information about the use of this website. This technology is not able to identify individual users but simply allows KAYA 959 to collect statistics. 

    4.2. KAYA 959 may utilise temporary or session cookies to keep track of users’ browsing habits. A cookie is a small file that is placed on your hard drive in order to keep a record of your interaction with this website and facilitate user convenience. 

    4.2.1. Cookies by themselves will not be used to identify users personally but may be used to compile identified statistics relating to use of services offered or to provide KAYA 959 with feedback on the performance of this website. 

    4.2.2. The following classes of information may be collected in respect of users who have enabled cookies: 

    4.2.2.1. The browser software used; 

    4.2.2.2. IP address; 

    4.2.2.3. Date and time of activities while visiting the website; 

    4.2.2.4. URLs of internal pages visited; and 

    4.2.2.5. referrers. 

    4.3. If you do not wish cookies to be employed to customize your interaction with this website it is possible to alter the manner in which your browser handles cookies. Please note that, if this is done, certain services on this website may not be available. 

    1. Security

    5.1. KAYA 959 takes reasonable measures to ensure the security and integrity of information submitted to or collected by this website, but cannot under any circumstances be held liable for any loss or other damage sustained by you as a result of unlawful access to or dissemination of any personal information by a third party. 

    1. Links to other websites

    6.1. KAYA 959 has no control over and accepts no responsibility for the privacy practices of any third party websites to which hyperlinks may have been provided and KAYA 959 strongly recommends that you review the privacy policy of any website you visit before using it further. 

    1. Queries

    7.1. If you have any queries about this privacy policy please contact us by emailing [email protected] 

    Competition Terms and Conditions

    • The competitions are open to all persons over the age of 18 years; except directors, partners, employees, agents, service providers, and consultants of Kaya 959, the sponsor and all its subsidiaries and its holding company, if any, as well as all spouses, life partners, parents, children, siblings, business partners and associates of such persons.

    • The outcome of the competition is subject to the decision of the judge/presenter, whose decision is final and no negotiation will be entered into thereafter. Neither Kaya 959, sponsors nor their agents will be held responsible or answerable to any dispute arising from the competition or prize awards.

    • Participants/listeners enter or take part in competitions at their own risk and Kaya 959 bears no responsibility for any loss, damage or harm suffered as a result of participation in any of Kaya 959 competition.

    • One listener is entitled to winning one prize in a period of 3 months. Kaya 959 reserves the right not to award a prize if the listener has won a prize prior during the 3 month window period. This also applies to listeners who provide family or friend’s contact details.

    • Kaya 959 reserves the right to redistribute all unclaimed prizes if not claimed after 3 months after being given away On Air or on the website.

    • Prizes are not transferable and may not be exchanged for cash.

    • Finalists will forfeit their participation in the competition if they fail to attend the draws.

    • The competition will run during the period advertised on Kaya 959; entries received outside of the competition period will not be considered for the competition draw.

    • Kaya 959 and their sponsors reserve the right to cancel, modify or amend the competition at any time if deemed necessary in their opinion, or if circumstances arise outside of their control.

    • By entering the competition, entrants agree to accept these rules and to be bound by them.