I was privileged to work in the transition-to-democracy team in South Africa in 1994. I cast my early vote for Nelson Mandela on April 26 — 23 years ago yesterday. I worked with Madiba’s team on his inauguration speech. April 26 is a special day for me.
For most of my beloved countrywomen and men in South Africa, victory day is April 27 — Freedom Day. This day marked the first post-apartheid national election, a day when everyone over age 18 was allowed to vote.
Jim Wallis and Sojourners were there 23 years ago on May 10 to celebrate the inauguration of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Years later, Jim would write, “Those formative years in the South African movement for freedom helped give me my theology of hope.”
On April 27, 1994, my parents, both in their fifties, voted for the first time. My grandmother, nearing 80, voted for the first time.
But my uncle Ismail did not live to see that day. He died of a heart attack after years of harassment, incarceration, and torture.My childhood friend, Naomi, did not live to see that day, either. She was shot to death at the age of 12 on our way to our mid-week children’s program at church.
Too many 'and's.
When April 27 comes around, I do not think of the price of freedom. I celebrate the "never again" moment it represents. But I had a lousy day yesterday. I had a "What the *%$@ am I doing in this country?" kind of day. Despite that, my prayer today is that we will develop the spines of steel to demand "never again" moments for too many lingering injustices.
Today I sing the song by British artist Labi Siffri a little louder and with more determination. "(Something Inside) So Strong" was written in 1984, inspired by a television documentary on Apartheid South Africa. The song has remained enduringly popular in South Africa. It was used in Alice Walker's film against female genital mutilation, Warrior Marks, and is sung every morning at Children Defense Fund Freedom Schools across the United States.
Enjoy! Happy Freedom Day!
The higher you build your barriers
The taller I become
The farther you take my rights away
The faster I will run
You can deny me
You can decide to turn your face away
No matter, cos there's....
Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it...