Thousands of S. Africans cast ballots at embassies

April 27, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- The man from Cape Town watching voters stream into South Africa House announced his judgment: "It's a bloody party, isn't it? Four hundred years of history being overturned.

"For 400 years, it was the British, the Dutch, the Afrikaners putting the black man down," said Dave Kressig, a 42-year-old administrative manager in Britain on a working holiday.

"Now it's turned around," Mr. Kressig said. "Most people -- most sane people -- want the change. I don't think very many people wanted to go on the way it was. The white man's now irrelevant in Africa, isn't he?"

Mr. Kressig is white, and so were the overwhelming majority of the South Africans voting at South Africa House, long the symbol in central London of the last attempt by white men to dominate Africans by force.

In the line of more than 500 when the balloting began at 7 a.m., perhaps one person in 20 or 30 was black. They voted here as South African expatriates around the world did yesterday.

Dennis Baker, 54, a black English teacher 29 years in England, was first. He'd gotten up at 5 a.m., determined to be first in line. "It wasn't much of a sacrifice," he said. "It's a privilege.

"I never cast a vote in my country," he said. "I never ever voted. My parents never voted. My grandparents never voted."

Blacks have never before been allowed to vote in a national election in South Africa.

"It's a wonderful day," Mr. Baker said. "A word has to be invented. Historic is an understatement. I'm so emotional. I feel like crying, laughing maybe."

He voted for Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.

Anglican Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, 80, another South African expatriate and one of the great heroes of the anti-apartheid movement, also voted for the ANC.

Archbishop Huddleston came at noon. He looked frail and wan and moved slowly and painfully on crutches. But he spoke in a strong, clear voice.

"I have entered this building for the first time in my life," he said. "For so many years, South Africa House has been the symbol of apartheid in London and a focus for protest."

He led many of the protests himself just outside the embassy building in Trafalgar Square, including campaigns to free Mr. Mandela. He has been president of the Anti-Apartheid Movement since 1981.

The archbishop last voted in a South African election in 1948. Although born in England, he held South African citizenship until stripped of it in 1976. It was reinstated about two weeks ago.

"I do truly believe today is miraculous," he said. "It's miraculous that in the four short years since Mandela came out of prison the whole situation has been turned on its head and the future is there for the making."

An estimated 50,000-70,000 South Africans are in Great Britain and Ireland for one reason or another.

Up to 20,000 were expected to vote at three polling places on London, another 30,000 more or less in five other British cities and in Dublin, Ireland.

As in South Africa itself, they could vote for the party of their choice in both provincial and national elections. The Independent Election Commission monitored the voting with help of a British law firm. Ballot boxes were to be sealed and shipped to South Africa for counting.

Voting went smoothly, even though long lines wound around a fairly big block most of the day. The sun was bright, the day warm and the voters waiting in line good-natured.

Almost all of them felt that they were making history. Mr. Kressig, the man from Cape Town, was kept busy taking pictures of people as they went to vote.

"They'll be asking: 'Where were you on April 26, 1994?' ", he said.

But not everybody was euphoric.

"What will happen, will happen. You can't stop it," said 77-year-old Paul Cockerill, a retired electrical engineer on vacation in Britain. "You can't stop the flood."

His friend, Alfred Graham, 67, also an engineer, said: "A lot of the blacks expect just a miraculous change. Free land, free house, free everything. And there'll be a helluva free-for-all afterward."

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