Letter from South Africa

Adele Kirsten, Training Co-ordinator with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, has been a WRI supporter for many years. She attended the WRI women's gatherings in Glencree, Ireland and in Bangkok, Thailand. The following is an excerpt from a letter she recently wrote from her homeland, South Africa:

"It has been the most extraordinary and incredible time for us all. I will try and capture some of what it meant for me. The weeks and the months leading up to the election were fraught with violence, fear and uncertainty. How many ordinary citizens would still be killed before we would elect a new government? The fears about indiscriminate killings, drive-by shootings and general anarchy on the days of the election were widespread. And then the first day of the election--people streamed in their millions to the voting stations. Many had been lining up since before sunrise--some had even made plans to sleep close to the voting stations so that they could be first in line. In the densely populated urban areas as well as the rural areas it was the same--long lines dragging far into the distance and people waited patiently to cast their vote--the first time for the majority of South Africans. I did some work for the local ANC branch assisting with monitoring the voting stations in my area and feeding that information to a central data centre. All was peaceful. So, Karl [Adele's husband] and I decided to go and join the crowds at one of the many voting stations in my area. We watched people come and go, relaxed, smiling friendly--there was a spirit of comradeship and togetherness. We waited. We watched the sun set and felt the chill autumn air in our bones and still we were about an hour away from the entrance. People sang, laughed, chatted to strangers as they waited, savouring this great moment. We had waited for five hours and then it was over in a matter of minutes. But the pleasure of having shared that moment with all the ordinary people of our suburb and our land remains.

"The festivities and parties began long before the final results were out but we knew that the people who had dreamed and hoped and fought against the evils of apartheid for a more just and democratic country--that those would be the winners in this election. Nelson Mandela's victory speech on the Monday after the election brought tears to my eyes--and again as he took the oath to serve the nation on the 10th May, I cried tears of joy and sadness. The sadness is because many people lost their lives in the fight for justice and I lost my youth and personal freedom during the dark days of the 1980s. There is also the loss of that close community of activists and friends--some have discarded their ideals, other become cynical, corporate employees.

"The surge of creative energy and hope that has been generated by these dramatic events in the life of our country make me optimistic about the future and the possibilities for something new. However, I am not blind to the reality that the burdens of apartheid will remain with us for many more generations and added to that, the many new government officials who will not serve the needs of the people. But, the spirit of reconciliation which largely Mandela has contributed to, dominates at this moment....

"In ending, I am reminded that the joy and hope I feel because of the events of the past few weeks, is shared with all of you who played your part through the international community in bring an end to the injustice of apartheid....Isn't all this a wonderful event for South Africa--but the honeymoon will soon be over and the struggle will continue."