Greta Apelgren-Narkedien vividly remembers how she felt when voting on 27 April 1994, and how she was overcome with emotions while reflecting on how many people died and had to suffer for democracy.
Greta Apelgren-Narkedien vividly remembers how she felt when voting on 27 April 1994, and how she was overcome with emotions while reflecting on how many people died and had to suffer for democracy.

Freedom Day reminds Durban activist of how many people died for democracy

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published Apr 27, 2021

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Freedom Day of 1994 for a young Greta Apelgren-Narkedien, was a day to be celebrated as the first post-apartheid elections brought in a new era of hope for South Africa, however, it was also a day to reflect on how many people died and had to suffer for democracy.

“It was a tough day for me because as I voted I realised everything that had to happen to get to this day. The first day of elections was the first real day of freedom, but I couldn't stop thinking that so many people had died for this,” she said.

Twenty-seven years ago, Apelgren-Narkedien was on duty for four days handling the administration at Austerville Community Hall, outside one of the biggest voting stations in a township South East of Durban.

“I was young and fighting an economic system that was hurting people psychologically and physically.”

Born and raised in the community of Wentworth, Apelgren-Narkedien was part of a large family with eleven siblings.

A newspaper feature with a young Greta Aplegren. Image: Supplied.

“I came from a very politically involved family. My parents were factory workers and the unions politicized them, so in turn my parents then politicized us a lot. I made my contribution to activism more in terms of political education and my social work. I was also very involved with the churches,” she said.

Apelgren-Narkedien has been a political activist for close to 55 years. When she was 11 she attended her first political meeting with her parents in the 1960s.

She was imprisoned from 1986-1989 for her part in the escape of fellow Umkhonto we Sizwe operative Gordon Webster from the Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg.

“I suffered severe psychological trauma when I was forced to live in isolation for 5 months in a secure section in Klerksdorp Prison in 1988 (I was a victim of anti-‘Coloured’ racism).”

During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission she got amnesty for her conviction as well as her part in the explosion at the Why Not Restaurant and Magoo’s Bar.

“As a university-educated young women in the 1980s, I did what had to be done to destroy apartheid and its racism!”

Apelgren-Narkedien obtained her degree from the University of the Western Cape, and during her time there she was one of thousands of “coloured” students boycotting classes in solidarity with the Soweto Youth Uprising on 16 June 1976.

“Media fails to remind South Africa of police violence "coloured" youth experienced in June 1976,” she said.

“For me the ultimate aim was to destroy all apartheid laws but it was the international community that helped us a great deal. It was really the economic sanctions which finally broke the back of apartheid and not so much our economic sabotage.”

To the youth of today celebrating Freedom Day, Apelgren-Narkedien says that while it should be a day celebrated because of the social changes that have been made, there is still much work to be done in the country.

“Magic won’t clean up the corruption and racism that there is today, young people need to get out there and become involved in changing the country.”

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* Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #UnmuteFreedom and read more on our Freedom Day campaign here.

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