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Photos: A look back at the euphoria of South Africans voting in the first democratic election

Freedom Day: South Africans and Google commemorate their first democratic election, remembered in archive photos.
AP Photo/Denis Farrel
Voters didn’t care how long they waited.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

On Friday April 27, South Africa celebrates 24 years since the historic first vote in 1994. Today, the day is noted as a public holiday with festivities in some quarters. For most, however, it’s a day off to run a few errands.


Google’s Freedom Day doodle.
Reuters/Corinne Dufka
Loving freedom.

South Africa’s first democratic election, in which all South Africans were allowed to vote after the end of apartheid was viewed as something of a miracle at the time—a peaceful transition on a continent gripped by violence. Tragically, as South Africa moved forward, Rwanda was experiencing the genocide that led to the deaths 800,000 people.

South Africa’s post-apartheid miracle may feel tarnished now by corruption scandals and the country may no longer have the sense of exceptionalism it had compared to its neighbors and developing peers. Still, it is important to be reminded of the founding principles of that first vote, and how close the country came to its own civil war in the tumultuous years before the vote.

AP Photo/David Brauchli
Even rappers got involved with voter registration.
AP Photo/David Brauchli
Making sure the first vote ran smoothly.

That parties were even able to campaign ahead of the election without violence was remarkable for the crowds who gathered to hear the speeches and promises. It’s perhaps why Google decided celebrate with South Africa with a doodle.

Reuters/Philippe Wojazer
They came from everywhere to hear the speeches.

Looking back at the photographs from that time, the enthusiasm with which South Africans embraced the campaign trail is palpable from the images. It’s especially remarkable given the violence that gripped South Africa’s townships just months before, and the unofficial war in KwaZulu-Natal that made many question whether South Africa could transition peacefully.

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Finally able to voice a political opinion without fear of arrest.


AP Photo/David Brauchli
Eventually the photos came down and life returned to a new normal.

Today, in most democracies, lining up to vote may seem laborious—afterall, most elections don’t bring immediate change, or bring in leaders that half the electorate disapproves of. Still, when considering life without the opportunity to vote, making that X is still worth it.

AP Photo/Denis Farrell
Black South Africans voted for the first time.

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