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Transforming a Nation—The 1994 South Africa General Elections

For more than three centuries Black South Africans were disenfranchised under a white dictatorship, and although blacks and whites had already been living separate lives, it wasn’t until the late 1940s that apartheid (meaning ‘apart-hood)’ was more formally established.

Through the National Party (1948), a series of policies were passed that purely benefited the white minority. The Popular Registration Act of 1950 would look to classify all South Africans into three categories based on skin colour: Bantu (blacks), Coloureds (those of mixed race), and White. Blacks were subsequently stripped of land ownership, with whites allocated a majority – 87 percent of the land, even though blacks outnumbered whites 5-1. Specific nominated areas or ‘independent homelands’ were assigned to blacks as ‘tribal regions', which saw millions of people displaced and under relocation programmes they were forced into designated areas, of which they had no tribal or cultural connection. It was compulsory for blacks to carry identification passes and their movement was largely restricted, along with their access to public amenities and services. Numerous human rights violations were implemented under apartheid, which impeded blacks from engaging in the public sphere in all regards. 

It wasn’t until the General Election of 1994 that South Africa would see the abrogation of apartheid. This was a transformative time for a nation of people who struggled for centuries to have their voice heard. For the first time in South African history, blacks were given the right to vote, in what was a multi-racial democracy where the outcome would free blacks from a life-time of oppression.

Wellington-based Beth Houston shares her views on apartheid and recalls her experience as an election observer at the 1994 General Elections.

Beth Houston
Images courtesy of Beth Houston.

About Beth

Born in Scotland, Beth Houston’s parents emigrated to South Africa during the 1970s. She grew up with liberal views and was active in politics from a young age. She worked with an organisation to distribute daily meals to townships, and fervently supported the eradication of apartheid, attending rallies and commemoration marches, she also participated in the ANC rally to welcome Nelson Mandela back to the Eastern Cape in Rini Township – Grahamstown. She is currently an active volunteer in Wellington, and sits on the Management Committee for Wellington Women’s Boarding House.