It is all silent on the street when I finally lift my ever-weary head from the pillow. The sun shines brightly through the clouds on the moderate autumnal midmorning. It's a weekday, and usually the street below is a hustle and bustle of cars, delivery vehicles and semis. Old ladies vie for a place on the sidewalk with whippersnapper students and conmen out to make a quick buck selling fake watches and TDK cassettes that fell off the back of a lorry.
Today the street is quiet. Today is not a normal day.
I would love to say that ordinarily at this time I would be up on the hill, in a university classroom, filling my young mind with the wonders of Geology, Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry. It would be an untruth. Ordinarily at this time I would be where I am: sleeping in and skipping class. But even today is not ordinary for me.
I know that I need to bath, get dressed, have breakfast, and then go out. Go out into the vastness of the quiet streets, and drive for 40 kilometres to Kommetjie; peaceful, semi-rural seaside Kommetjie. I'm scared. Scared of the unknown. I am not alone; it's a small consolation.
A few months ago, a bar some of my fellow students frequent was attacked by people with automatic rifles (machine guns (AK-47's)). Recently the church where my friend sometimes worships was attacked, during a service, with hand grenades and other assorted weapons. Nobody has been arrested for either crime, but that makes no difference, for there are a hundred others ready and willing to fill their shoes should they ever be apprehended.
What is frightening about these attacks is not that they happened, but rather why they happened where they did. Both venues were chosen because they were islands in a turbulent sea, islands of racial harmony. The full spectrum of the rainbow nation living together as one. They were renegades, for the storm is still beating fiercely on the land and the rainbow has not yet begun to shine.
Today is the day that we are meant to begin living the rainbow dream. Today the country is united: united we stand, waiting to divide her up, divide her more equitably. "Equity" is a word I still have to learn, but when I do learn it, it will have different meaning for me than it has for you, if you have learned it yet.
Today, millions of South Africans are going to do something they have never done before. Something millions have never dared dream of doing. Something millions have not lived to see. Something thousands have given their lives for, and thousands more have been robbed of theirs to prevent. Something billions around the world take for granted and millions don't bother to do. Today, South Africans aged 18 to 184 are going to cast the first vote of their lives, and take our country to a place none of us has ever been before or can even conceive of. I am one of them.
I get up, bathe, dress and eat, then take the first steps out of my door. I get into my car, start the engine, reverse and set off slowly at first, as I negotiate the two eight foot wrought iron security gates separating me from the new world. I look left, look right, and turn into the side street up to the junction and onto Rondebosch Main Road.
There are two ways to get to Kommetjie from Rondebosch. Both take the same length of time. One is along the motorway past the affluent suburbs of Bishop's Court and Constantia, over Ou Kaapse Weg and down Kommetjie Road. The other passes through lower-middle-class Grassy Park and the gangland of Lavender Hill, then alongside the sea to Fish Hoek and down Kommetjie Road. Neither is just a route to me, both are emotional rollercoasters through the highways and byways of my childhood.
On a normal day, I would hit the second junction on Rondebosch Main Road and if it's green I would take the former, if it's red I would turn left with the indicative arrow and reach over to lock my already locked doors. Today is not a normal day, and I choose neither, instead I make my way down the Main Road through what is usually a slow chug of signalised intersections and drivers slamming brakes to avert a collision with the random path of cavalier minibus taxis.
Today the Main Road anthem of "Claaaaaaaremont, Moooowwwwbriiieee, Kiiiaaaaaape Tiiiooownnnn" does not resound. The taxis and their gaatjies are not here. People are not moving today, they are all standing in line: black, green and yellow, red, white and blue, shoulder to shoulder. Sitting ducks.
I drive past the Presidential residence on the slopes leading up the side of Table Mountain and into the suburb of Newlands. I don't even blink as I pass the rugby stadium where in less than 12 months, Cape Town will again stand still as PJ Powers sings World in Union and South Africa will be united for the second time, cheering their AmaBokkeBokke to victory against the World Champion Australian rugby team.
Toto's Africa is playing on my cassette deck, and I am in emotional turmoil. The song takes me places: I am dancing carefree on the floor of the nightclub next door at 2am; I am at my boyfriend's house two suburbs across and on the other side of the M5 motorway that separates Rondebosch from Rondebosch East. People stare at us in the car at traffic lights, and it makes me feel alive. My boyfriend is many things, but today he is just a man casting a vote that means nothing to him but the world to his father.
It starts to rain, not heavy, just a light but persistent drizzle. On my left is Claremont Civic Centre and the first people I have seen today. The line snakes through the car park, looping backward and forwards, round and round, without pattern. I give the scene little more than a split-second glance, but I can already see that the spectrum of people there is as vast as the colours of the umbrellas. Those who have umbrellas: many are getting wet, yet even those at the back of the line do not move. What is a little drizzle after all we've been through? I can see from the length of the line that people have been waiting since before I woke up, and will be waiting many more hours. What is a few more hours when we have been waiting for eternity?
I continue down to Wynberg Main Road and pass my old school, where three years ago Ayesha took those first brave steps and became my friend. Where two years ago the deputy head addressed the whole school and spoke to the handful who would be telling F.W. de Klerk what they thought. "Those of you who are 18 go to the polls tonight and say 'yes'. Do not forget."
Left and right roads beckon me to join one of the routes to Kommetjie, but I resist. My indecision about my journey contrasts my certainty of its goal. I am going to cast two votes: one for a national government and one for a provincial government.
I have read all the newspapers. I have marvelled at the ANC's full-page adverts in The Argus and The Sunday Times and wondered how they afforded them when. I have marvelled at the NP's audacity to try and win support. Don't they know we're doing all of this to get rid of them? I have read The South and marvelled at what really happens on the other side of the M5, wondered how its articles escaped censorship. I still have these articles in a box in a cupboard in my mother's house, alongside the articles from February 11, 1990, when I wondered who Nelson Mandela was. I have even been to an ANC rally, in Jammie Hall - the first of a handful of times I will set foot in that hall before graduating from it in 5 years' time.
I have exposed myself to all the political education I need to make an informed decision. In my heart I know what is right, and in my heart I know that the vote I am about to cast is wrong. But my heart does not rule my hand, my head does, and a lifetime of propaganda and censorship and lies and indoctrination is hard to cast aside when fear is thrown into the mix.
Finally I get to Retreat, where the road forks at the house where I joined in my first Eid celebration, with my father and Shorty, one of his men (never boys, which is a term I would eventually come to realise was the norm), when I did not pass my father's knee and he still called me his tail. In Retreat my love for the sea and the view from Boyes Drive is challenged by my hatred for the Fish Hoek valley and the logic that going over the mountain via Ou Kaapse Weg is quicker than going around it. I turn right.
Further into Toto's Greatest Hits album and again my thoughts move to the house in Rondebosch East. Some people live their dream / Some people close their eyes / Some people's destiny / Passes by. We are all in very different places now, but when I hear that song, our small group that met in that house on Belgravia Road every night are forever frozen in time. Conrad is on top of his career, Ronda wants to move into her own flat, Andrea can still see with one eye, I am happy, Salim's hope is fading, André can sense that something is rank, that in two short months it will all have fallen apart.
Finally I arrive, park my car and go inside. I find my parents (where is my brother anyway?) who tell me where to go. Back in the car I drive around the corner (doesn't anybody walk in South Africa?), park the car and join the dozen or so people in the queue. I cannot remember if I walk through a metal detector and get searched or not1, before my ID Book is stamped with UV ink and my thumbnail is given the same stain. I do know that the policemen are there with their R4 Rifles, but this doesn't worry me. I step into the tent that serves as a voting hall and am given my two slips.
My head guides my pen like a computer controls a robot. My heart is absent in that tent, there is no hesitation. In the first booth I make an X next to the picture of a person I do not know, who represents a party that will no longer exist in two years' time. In the second booth I make an X next to a party that has changed its name, and that will be as ineffectual in the future as it was in the past. It is all over within 10 minutes, start to finish.
I was there in the revolution, but I did not fight. Thank God we won.
1 I must have done. It would have been abnormal if I didn't. We would walk through metal detectors and be body searched and have our handbags searched when going into shopping malls and night clubs. In the months after the elections, the searching and metal detectors disappeared as seamlessly as they arrived.