It’s April in South Africa. The changes that sweep through naturally in Autumn are a sharp contrast to the changes that swept through our country – rather unnaturally – that April, 26 years ago.
Like a leaf that has changed colour and is pressed into a book to preserve, this memory is neatly tucked into my mind. It remains vivid. It’s proof too of why I was propelled into journalism.
It was 1993. I was just 10 years old. It was the Easter holidays and my family and I were on holiday in Johannesburg. A regular trip to the grocery store on the morning of 11 April shook me to the core. I saw the headlines and I was in utter disbelief. I opened up the newspaper quickly, onto the tomatoes and other vegetables, and read the details of Chris Hani’s murder the day before.
I could not believe this had happened. This was Chris Hani – the charismatic, dedicated man who could have one day become President after Nelson Mandela. We were at such a critical juncture in our country’s history and now this? Indeed, the winds of change were blowing but clearly Hani’s murderers were not happy about this and so they callously attacked him outside his home.
Yes, I was young but I had developed a keen grasp of social and political issues. As a young citizen, I could not separate myself from what was happening in the land of my birth. This was history unfolding and I wanted to understand as much as I could, even the heartbreaking events – like Hani’s murder.
By then, it was clear to the SACP and ANC that elections needed to happen sooner rather than later. It was what Hani was working towards at the time of his murder. And he was fondly remembered when ballots were cast in our first democratic elections on the 27th of April 1994.
As we approach this historic day and prepare for another historic election in our 25th year of democracy, Hani will be remembered again. The most common question likely to be asked and many have already hypothesized about this, is – would Hani be happy about the state of our democracy?
No one can answer that with certainty. But, certainly, Hani believed in the power of a democratic vote. No matter what your qualms about the status quo in South Africa are, your vote remains your voice. And now is not the time for silence. Your future and that of future generations hinge on your mark on the ballot paper.
It’s April in South Africa and the winds of change, this Autumn, rest with you….