By MICHAEL O. ALLEN and GENE MUSTAIN, Daily News Staff Writers | Thursday, April 28, 1994
SOWETO—The preacher from Harlem paid no mind when the president from Pretoria made a surprise visit to a church here yesterday.
While dozens of people, including some of his fellow American preachers, crowded around South African President F. W. de Klerk and even shook his hand, the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker of the Canaan Baptist Church stayed to the side.
“How can you shake that man’s hand?” Walker asked members of the group here with him to observe the first election in this country in which blacks have been able to vote.
His voice was gentle, but his body language was strong. As one of the leading U.S. foes of apartheid the last 20 years, it was difficult for Walker to get excited about de Klerk—an apartheid man until five years ago.
“If I had to say one kind thing about de Klerk,” Wyatt later said, “it’s that he was in power when the pressures of liberation became too great. He responded; someone else might have resisted.”
Walker, a former chief of staff for Martin Luther King Jr., heads a group of 17 Americans, including the Rev. Al Sharpton—who was at another polling place when de Klerk popped up unexpectedly at the Holy Cross Anglican Parish.
Many ordinary people in the crowd were pleased he came.
“It makes me so proud that finally de Klerk can come to Soweto and see we are people too, people who only want what he has had,” said Wahldmola Moloi, who wore a “New York Rowing Club” T-shirt.
Under a boiling sun, Moloi and many thousands of Sowetans stood patiently in seemingly endless lines for hours waiting to cast their votes. The mood was jubilant; many equated the act of voting with religious conversion.
“The thing that touches my heart,” Walker said, “is to see the sweetness of these people, in contrast to the meanness of their circumstances.”
Walker said the extraordinarly high turnout of Sowetans and blacks across the country should inspire minority voters in 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.”