Dubai // Hundreds of South African expatriates have been voting for the first time in their country’s general election.
It is also the first election in which citizens born after the apartheid regime ended 20 years ago are eligible to vote in and the first since the death of Nelson Mandela.
Previously, expatriates had to register to vote in their home country, but now they can do so in their country of residence.
About 1,500 South Africans out of 100,000 in the UAE lined up yesterday at the country’s consulate in Dubai to take part.
“This is the first time since 1994 that we vote without the father of the nation, Nelson Mandela,” said the consul general, Manabile Shogole.
“With this 20-year celebration, we are saying South Africa has come a long way in addressing the injustices and inequalities and pockets of hardcore poverty that are reminiscent of the apartheid era.”
This is the first year that expatriates can register to vote, Mr Shogole said.
Tyrone Evans, a South African expatriate who has lived in the UAE for six years said: “It’s been easier [and] more accessible.”
Mr Shogole explained how those born after 1994, when apartheid ended, are known as “born-frees” – those born with democracy.
Brent Spence, who has lived here for seven years, said he wished more people had come to the consulate to vote.
“People want democracy because you have the choice to make a difference, [but] a lot of people don’t,” he said.
His colleague, Karin Bracher, echoed this opinion.
“Anybody who votes affects the outcome – it just takes one person at the end of the day to make a difference,” said Ms Bracher, who has lived in the UAE for six years.
Mr Shogole said the country could never forget its painful past, but everyone had to work for a brighter future for all citizens.
“We are celebrating the achievements and we commit ourselves towards a shared future for all South Africans,” he said. “We must never forget our painful past and our journey to democracy.
“People lost their lives, people sacrificed so much so that today we should live in a democratic South Africa.”
South Africans living abroad, those with special needs and people working in sectors such as the police or army were able to vote yesterday, while the rest of the nation will cast their votes on May 7.
Nelson Mandela, the country’s first democratically elected president, was swept to power in 1994.
The current president is Jacob Zuma, who has been in office since 2009.