The 1997 election was only the second time I had ever voted in South Africa, even though I had been eligible to vote since 1979. The first time I voted was in the 17 March 1992 referendum where all white people could vote about abolishing apartheid.
The second time I voted was 27 April 1994, during the first democratic general elections in South Africa. Voting took place over four days, and some people queued that long. Despite the long queues in the heat, the mood was so upbeat and everyone had so much hope for the new South Africa.
So many people died fighting for the right to vote that it seemed vital to use that right when it finally came. Voter turnout was almost 87% in that first election. Sadly, that has dropped over the years, for a number of reasons.
Having the right to vote is something that is hard-won. Swedish women voted for the first time in elections in 1921. After the election of 1921, five women entered the Riksdag. However, it was still possible for certain groups to be excluded from the eligibility to vote after 1921. A requirement that continued to apply was that men had to have completed national military service in order to be able to vote. This requirement was abolished in 1922 following a decision by the Riksdag. Interns in prisons and institutions were not granted suffrage until 1937. Individuals who had gone into bankruptcy or were dependent on economic support in the form of relief for the poor did not acquire voting rights until 1945. The final limitation of the franchise disappeared in 1989 when the Riksdag abolished what is known as ‘declaration of legal incompetency’.
The right to vote has been a long time coming for many groups in the population. It is so important to exercise that right in democratic elections.