I lived and worked in South Africa for four months, helping with their historical 1994 national election which brought the blacks their first fully democratic votes. Coming from a mostly white, safe world, where I naively and proudly managed a few of our own Canadian Federal elections, my eyes were often incredibly opened to what the real world was dealing with, in countries like South Africa where they have dealt with blatant discrimination, bias and racism in its most egregious forms for decades, if not centuries.
While we here in Canada cannot ask a client or a job applicant their race, religion or sex, one of the jobs I had in preparing for the SA election, was to hire (and then train) election workers according to their ‘color’! The SA population at that time was approximately 80% black, 9% white, 8% colored (mixed) and 3% Asian. Therefore, every polling station was to have this percentage in each ‘color’ category, or as close as possible.
Imagine the trepidation with which I faced these guidelines! I actually had to make up Application Forms and Employee Charts showing these ‘color’ categories, and then find workers to fill them!I worked in the Provincial Election Office in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. It took up many floors of an office tower and employed many local and international personnel. My office had black, white, colored and Asian employees. As we got to know each other, and worked on various projects together, it was simply amazing how quickly the ‘color’ was forgotten and the ‘person’ became foremost.
Of course, it was a short term project, but I marveled at the acceptance and respect each employee had for the others they worked with; especially remembering the very recent, cruel harsh past of this nation, and the huge grievances that each person could harbor. In fact, some told me they were actually surprised to see how easily it could be done. But, it can be done…it was done…in fact, people of all colors worked together all across South Africa. They had a common goal; to carry out this historical election in the best and safest manner possible.
Here in Canada we need more stories of successful integration between all races and colors. We need more models of different peoples, different races, working and living together in respect and harmony; we need them not just to make our own world today more safe, but for our children to see that this is the way we get along with each other, whatever color or race our neighbor or colleague happens to be. After all, our common goal on this planet is to live the best and safest lives possible…together.
Gladys A Teske
Sherwood Park AB