By MICHAEL O. ALLEN and GENE MUSTAIN, Daily News Staff Writers | Wednesday, April 27, 1994
JOHANNESBURG—Filled with indescribable emotions, South Africa’s liberation hero, Nelson Mandela, will vote today for the first time in his remarkable life.
Mandela, the former political prisoner poised to become the first president of the new South Africa, is set to vote in a school founded by one of the men who preceded him as leader of the once-banned African National Congress.
“There are certain feelings one cannot express in words. . . . What I feel is beyond words,” he said yesterday while meeting with a world press corps here to witness the death and rebirth of a nation.
But Mandela, 76, who spent 27 years in jail for opposing apartheid, did have much to say about his hopes and plans for South Africa, and the extremists behind a flurry of bombings across the country that have killed 21 people in three days.
“We will not let a handful of killers steal our democracy,” he said. “Our surest way to stop them, and to bring peace, is to cast our vote.”
While condemning the bombers, Mandela extended many olive branches to whites and to members of the government and security forces who committed crimes during the apartheid years.
“Our task now is to heal the wound of the past,” he said, wearing a robin’s egg blue shirt and dove-white pants, the colors of the “Peace in Our Land” flags and t-shirts that abound in the country.
Mandela spoke as the old minority government prepared to go out of business on the first of three days of historic voting—which was set aside for the hospitalized, the disabled, seniors and South Africans abroad.
The honor of a first black to vote in a South African election went to a niece of Mandela’s, Dr. Nomaza Paintin, who voted in New Zealand, where she lives with her husband.
Nationwide, the first day of voting appeared to go smoothly, considering that the agency running the election was formed four months ago and had 600,000 workers responsible for 9,700 polling places.
The worst problems appeared to be in Natal Province, where agency workers were risking their lives only a week ago because of opposition to the election by the Inkatha Freedom Party.
At a Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, hundreds stood in line until midnight to get the coveted documents. But no one seemed to mind.
“Blacks didn’t used to be able to vote,” said Peggy Twala of Soweto.