I came across this image taken by a press photographer in May 1990 after one of the first public meetings between the last white minority government and the liberation movement (led by the ANC), to negotiate a new political order. This was the ANC delegation to that meeting in Cape Town. The people in the image are front Cheryl Carolus (UDF leader), Cyril Ramaphosa (National Union of Mineworkers), Rose Sonto (Cape Town civic leader) and Aubrey Mokoena (Soweto activist). Standing at the back are Dali Mpofu (young lawyer and, so the gossip goes, the man who caused the divorce between Nelson and Winnie Mandela), Bulelani Ngcuka (Western Cape UDF leader), Murphy Morobe (Johannesburg UDF leader), Trevor Manuel (Cape Town UDF leader), Rolihlahla Mandela (!), Nomzamo Winnie Mandela (no introductions needed), Moses Mayekiso (leader of metalworkers and and civic leader), Sister Bernard Ncube (Soweto civic leader), Albertina Sisulu (!), Christmas Tinto (Cape Town UDF leader), Walter Sisulu (!), Bulelwa Tinto (Cape Town UDF leader) and Frank Chikane (Johannesburg cleric and UDF leader).
Then I was an undergraduate student at the University of Cape Town (and a journalist at the campus paper, “Varsity”) and the ANC (and its internal allies in the mass democratic movement and the unions) represented the demands of the majority of South Africans. Those negotiations–punctuated by state proxy violence against black people in the townships, assassinations of ANC leaders, etcetera–would eventually culminate in the April 1994 elections. I remember voting for the first time in those elections in the township where I grew up in the Western Cape–for the ANC, both in national and provincial elections. I would do the same in 1999–voted ANC. I couldn’t vote in 2004 (I was in the US when “overseas” votes were not allowed). Neither did I get to vote in 2009. But if I did, I would have voted ANC again.
Today South Africans vote again. Of those people in the image, Nelson Mandela, Albertina and Walter Sisulu, Christmas Tinto and Sister Bernard Ncube have all passed away. It is also telling that of those still alive, only three are playing leading roles in politics: Ramaphosa is deputy president of the ANC; Dali Mpofu is a leading member of Julius Malema’s party, the Economic Freedom Fighters; and Moses Mayekiso is the presidential candidate of a small leftist party, the Workers and Socialist Party. Of the others, Carolus is not actively involved in politics anymore, Ngcuka fell foul of Zuma, Morobe is a businessman, Manuel is retiring from politics, and Frank Chikane was last Thabo Mbeki’s chief of staff. So, with the exception of Ramaphosa (implicated in Marikana and exemplar of the politically connected oligarchs connected with Zuma’s rule), all of them are critics of the current ANC leadership.
Last week, I went to vote at the Consulate here in New York City. In the end, with the voting booth in sight, I was turned away because I only had one piece of ID (you needed two: passport and national ID card). But if I’d been permitted, I planned to split my vote between the ANC at the provincial level (to get the Democratic Alliance out of power–I am from Cape Town) and for the Workers and Socialist Party at a national level, as a protest vote against the current ANC leadership under Jacob Zuma and Blade Nzimande.
* From an ANC poster for the 1994 elections: “Find your Identity. Register. Vote.”