[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.
On the evening of 26 April 1994 we walked down Long Street in Cape Town to the Provincial Legislature Building in Wale Street. A crowd had gathered to see the symbolic lowering of the old South African flag and the hoisting of the new flag. We were all a bit drunk and giddy and stood around chatting and smiling.
“Can you believe it,” a friend scoffed. “Pick and Pay has run out of candles. There are a lot of crazy people out there.”
“They were doing a brisk business in tinned food too, apparently,” smirked another.
“They will have to throw it all away in a few weeks,” Neville laughed. “Rich people don’t eat tinned food,”
A crowd had gathered in the street. It was a friendly but subdued gathering, almost solemn. It was as if we had all entered a beautiful cathedral and were awed by the surroundings. The lines of Phillip Larkin’s poem “Church Going” came to me:
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete.
For someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
Somebody shouted that there was one minute left. The crowd cheered. This was it. A count-down started and as the old flag was being lowered we all chanted: “Down! Down! Down!” A mighty roar went up as the new flag was hoisted. Neville and I hugged and kissed. Then we hugged our friends and some of the strangers around us too.
The new flag was twisting in the breeze. I turned away from Neville and wiped my face with the sleeve of my jacket. It was getting cold.
We woke up early. The streets of Tamboerskloof were quiet. Neville and I walked down to the nearest voting station at Jan van Riebeeck High School. We met the ANC election co-ordinator who gave us our posters and pamphlets and we set up our stall a hundred meters away from the polling station as required by law.
A car hooted at us, but we could not tell if it was in support or in anger.
The voting queue had grown and about two thousand people were standing in a neat line. Amazing that no one tried to push in, I thought. Some people in the queue had brought camp chairs and I could see at least one cooler box.
“This is it,” I said. “It is actually happening.”
“The Americans have the Kennedy assassination and the moon landing. But we have this,” Neville said.
I nodded. “Sjoe. What a day.”
“Yes, what a day.”BACK TO TOP