Events leading to the first democratic elections

27 APRIL 1994

Benny Gool / Oryx Archives

Violence until
the very last:

Two days before the first democratic elections, white racists made a last desperate bid to scare people into staying away from polling stations. On Sunday 25 April, a massive car bomb exploded outside the ANC regional office in downtown Johannesburg demolishing buildings, killing nine people and injuring 92. The next day, another bomb went off at a taxi rank in Germiston, killing ten. On Tuesday, 26 April there was yet another explosion at Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg’s main airport. Bombs were hurled into six polling stations around the country.

A determined nation
forges ahead:

The violence failed utterly. An estimated 86% of the electorate cast their ballots in a smooth and orderly manner. Despite long delays and logistical problems that rendered about 15% of voting stations inoperable for all or part of the day, IEC Chairman Johann Kriegler said the election so far had been between “80% and 90% acceptable”. He also announced another public holiday to facilitate voting in areas like Venda, Gazankulu, Lebowa, Transkei, and Ciskei where there had been logistical problems. A further 9.3 million ballot papers were printed locally.

Voting in KwaZulu:

This province was home to the majority of IFP supporters. The IFP’s last-minute agreement to participate in the elections made voting here more chaotic than anywhere else in the country. Announcement of the vote tally was delayed for several days. (In the KwaZulu legislature, the IFP got a one-seat majority.) Mandela cast his vote at Ohlange High School just north of Durban. This is the place where the founding President of the ANC, John Dube, is buried.

One minute
past midnight:

The new South African flag was hoisted one minute after midnight on Wednesday, 27 April as the Interim Constitution came into operation. The new anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika combined with lines from Die Stem, the old anthem under apartheid, was played as the flag was ushered in.

The election

Despite reported irregularities by several parties, no one ultimately contested the legitimacy of the election. After days of frustration as the vote counting process laboured under a plethora of problems, the IEC announced the results: the ANC had won 252 seats (63.7% of the vote); the NP 82 seats (20% of the vote); the IFP 43 seats (10.5% of the vote); the FF 9 seats (2.2% of the vote); the Democratic Party (DP) 7 seats (1.7% of the vote); and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) 5 seats (1.2% of the vote). In total, seven political parties were to be represented in Parliament. The ANC was but several votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Interim Constitution or to approve the final constitution.

Free at last:

On 2 May, De Klerk conceded defeat on national television. Mandela was South Africa’s first black President. The ANC danced the night away 50 floors above the centre of downtown Johannesburg in the ballroom of the Carlton Hotel. Although Mandela was advised to stay at home as he had a cold, he joined the festivities and addressed an ecstatic crowd of supporters:

“To the people of South Africa and the world who are watching: this is indeed a joyous night for the human spirit. This is your victory too. You helped end apartheid; you stood with us through the transition. We are starting a new era of hope, reconciliation and nation building.”

Mandela is
elected President:

One week later, Albertina Sisulu, then ANC Member of Parliament, formally nominated Mandela, on behalf of the majority party in Parliament, for President. Ramaphosa seconded the nomination. Only one candidate was nominated for President.

“Mr Chairman, I nominate Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela for election as President, thank you.”

In their own words

“Most of us had never voted before … It was quite something. I kept looking at my ballot ensuring I put the cross in the right place. [After I voted] we were monitoring the stations … and also reassuring the people standing in the long lines.”

-Frene Ginwala, then founding member of the National Women’s Coalition

“The idea of participating in a democratic election thrilled me. On the spur of the moment I decided to vote in Munsieville [the township outside Krugersdorp]. I didn’t want to make a political statement – I was just curious … Nobody questioned my presence. Standing in the ballot station augmented the new reality – there were no more apartheid boundaries.”

Leon Wessels, then Cabinet Minister and NP negotiator at the MPNP

“This is one of the most important moments in the life of our country. I stand here before you filled with deep pride and joy – pride in the ordinary, humble people of this country. You have shown such a calm, patient determination to reclaim this country as your own, and joy that we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops – free at last!”

-Nelson Mandela, in a speech of thanks to the voters

“I walked next to him as he moved around the room from table to table. He greeted each of the polling officers one by one. They seemed transfixed by his presence.”

Gay McDougall, then African American International Observer on the IEC who accompanied Nelson Mandela to the polling station

“Despite kilometre-long queues, administrative blunders and disappointments, the party mood rarely sagged. White and black made friends in the long queues, swapping stories and bottles of refreshments. They stood patiently from dawn to dusk while the bureaucrats and politicians squabbled. The strategies, computers and cellular phones had failed. Only the unflagging human spirit made it a day to be proud of.”

-Weekly Mail & Guardian, Friday 29 April 1994

“I was 53. My grandmother had lived in Ennerdale her whole life so I went to vote there in her honour. I could have gone where the cameras were but I did not. I wanted to be with the people of Ennerdale – a coloured community. As an ANC person I wanted them to see me voting with them.”

Barbara Masekela, then assistant to Nelson Mandela in the Office of the President

“We had to set up structures and get a whole election done in four months. We had to make the vote real for many people. Those were the days when we worked 19 hours a day and on Saturdays and Sundays. It was hard work but a phenomenal experience and it was emotionally wonderfully satisfying to do it.”

-Zak Yacoob, then member of the Independent Electoral Commission

“While we were singing Die Stem and Nkosi sikelel iAfrika we saw the new flag hoisted and the old flag lowered. This was a poignant moment, never to be forgotten.”

Leon Wessels, then Cabinet Minister and NP negotiator at the MPNP

“It was very, very unfortunate because we joined the election at a very late hour. All the security was from other parties and the officials were from other parties, so we were the most disadvantaged.”

-Gertrude Mzizi, then IFP member and activist in Thokoza


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Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994