NEW CHALLENGES FOR A NEW NATION: Sharpton Sees Lesson in South Africa Voting

By GENE MUSTAIN and MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writers | Sunday, May 1, 1994

JOHANNESBURG—After a whirlwind, emotional visit, the Rev. Al Sharpton flew home to New York yesterday with stars in his eyes.

“If only I could bring home in a bottle the hope and spirit I saw here, it would change New York politics forever,” said Sharpton, who’s challenging incumbent Daniel Moynihan for the U.S. Senate democratic nomination.

Sharpton and other New Yorkers, including the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker of Harlem’s Caanan Baptist Church, spent last week here observing the many poignant moments of South Africa’s first all-race election.

“It was the most moving experience in my life,” said Sharpton.

Sharpton and Walker toured polling stations in vast black townships like Soweto, Kliptown and El Dorado—where millions of people live, often in grim shacks with no running water or electricity.

Yet, for three days last week, the townships crackled with joy and goodwill as people poured out of the shacks and trooped to polling stations and stood in line for hours to vote for freedom and democracy.

The tension and violence that accompanied the tortuous road to the election completely evaporated in most areas—even though the country was in the grip of a wave of bombings blamed on fanatical whites.

“The expression of hope and the dignity of people on line was inspiring,” Sharpton said. “It was as if they were silently telling the extremists, ‘You can’t intimidate us.’

“If minorities in New York could have seen what we saw, they would realize that electoral politics may not give you everything you want, but they can accomplish real change.”

Walker, a former chief of staff for Martin Luther King Jr., headed the delegation that included Sharpton and 15 other preachers and promiment blacks such as the Rev. Albert Rowe of the Calvary Baptist Church in Patterson, N.J.

“The thing that touched my heart,” Walker said, while standing outside a polling station at a church in Soweto, “was to see the sweetness of these people, in contrast to the meanness of their circumstances.”

Walker said he also was coming home with a message for New York.

“I’m going to tell my Hispanic and African-American friends in New York that if they cherished the vote as much as these people do, David Dinkins would still be mayor.”

Dinkins spent the week with another delegation, observing the election in northern cape region of the country. Other New Yorkers, including several lawyers active in civil-rights cases, spent the week in the Durban area.

Sharpton said he was recognized everywhere he went and that most South Africans “have a much more positive view of New York” than most New Yorkers do.

“The thing they appreciate most is that we can oppose things,” he said.