journalist John Daniszewski reported on South Africa’s first all-race election. We are reprinting the story now to mark the 25th anniversary of the vote and the end of the system of racial discrimination known as apartheid.

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Black South Africans made history Tuesday, voting by the tens of thousands to take control of their country for the first time since whites arrived 342 years ago.

FILE - In this April 27, 1994, file photo, African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela casts his vote during South Africa's first all-race elections at Ohlange High School in Inanda, near Durban, South Africa. (AP Photo/John Parkin. File)
FILE – In this April 27, 1994, file photo, African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela casts his vote during South Africa’s first all-race elections at Ohlange High School in Inanda, near Durban, South Africa. (AP Photo/John Parkin. File)

Refusing to be cowed by a wave of deadly bombings, the elderly and infirm came in droves from squatter settlements and thatched villages to mark a simple cross on a piece of paper.

Some literally crawled and others were pushed to the polls in wheelbarrows. Many broke down in tears after making their mark.

“We need freedom,” said 72-year-old Florence Ndimangele, voting with other elderly people near Cape Town. “We are tired of being slaves.”

FILE - In this Sunday, Feb. 11, 1990 file photo Nelson Mandela, left, and his wife Winnie, right, leave the Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town, South Africa, ending Nelson Mandela's 27-years of imprisonment under the country's white minority government. (AP Photo/Greg English, File)
FILE – In this Sunday, Feb. 11, 1990 file photo Nelson Mandela, left, and his wife Winnie, right, leave the Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town, South Africa, ending Nelson Mandela’s 27-years of imprisonment under the country’s white minority government. (AP Photo/Greg English, File)

Underscoring the epic change, a new South African flag was raised at midnight in ceremonies at nine regional capitals after the old flag that many blacks viewed as a symbol of white rule was lowered.

The anthem of the anti-apartheid movement, “God Bless Africa,” was sung for the first time as one of the two official national anthems, along with “Die Stem” (The Call), a hymn of the Afrikaners whose five-decade rule is about to end.

Despite late-arriving ballots and lines so long in some places that people collapsed, the mood among blacks casting the first vote of their lives was jubilant.

FILE - In this photo taken Jan. 1, 1985 two men exit public toilets reserved for whites only in downtown Johannesburg. (AP Photo/David Van Gur, File)
FILE – In this photo taken Jan. 1, 1985 two men exit public toilets reserved for whites only in downtown Johannesburg. (AP Photo/David Van Gur, File)

Tuesday’s voting was reserved for the aged, invalids, people in hospitals and the military. General voting begins Wednesday, when African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and President F.W. de Klerk will cast their ballots.

“Today marks the dawn of our freedom,” Mandela said.

For Gladys Shabalala, a 62-year-old retired nurse voting near Durban, it was a day of immeasurable significance.

FILE - In this Sept. 1989 file photo white bathers walk past black demonstrators protesting against the beach reserved for
FILE – In this Sept. 1989 file photo white bathers walk past black demonstrators protesting against the beach reserved for “whites only” in Durban South Africa. (AP Photo/John Parkin, File)

“There have been so many white elections,” she said. “I used to pass the posters on the road and dream about whether I would be able to vote. That’s why I came so early, to see if this is really happening.”

Her seven daughters, she said, will see “a real new South Africa.”

After two days of bombings by suspected right-wingers that killed 21 people and injured more than 150, no major violence was reported Tuesday. Election officials said they were generally pleased with the voting, despite some glitches.

FILE - In this Friday, March 11, 1994 two Afrikaner resistance movement supporters, front and back right, plead for their lives after their comrade, back left, lies mortally wounded after being shot by Bophuthatswana homeland soldiers in Mmabatho after armed white extremists had poured into the homeland to bolster its authoritarian ruler, Lucas Mangope, against an uprising by African National Party Congress supporters. (AP Photo)
FILE – In this Friday, March 11, 1994 two Afrikaner resistance movement supporters, front and back right, plead for their lives after their comrade, back left, lies mortally wounded after being shot by Bophuthatswana homeland soldiers in Mmabatho after armed white extremists had poured into the homeland to bolster its authoritarian ruler, Lucas Mangope, against an uprising by African National Party Congress supporters. (AP Photo)

In one of the few violent incidents, police guarding a polling station in the northern Orange Free State returned fire after assailants cut power to the building and sprayed gunfire that damaged doors and windows. Police said the attackers escaped in a vehicle.

Ballot counting from the three-day election begin Friday. Preliminary results are expected about noon Friday and final results were expected Saturday. An estimated 23 million South Africans of all races were eligible to vote.

The heavy turnout was a striking repudiation of the bomb-throwers, as blacks went out of their way to show they would not be denied their moment of glory.

FILE - In this Sept. 15, 1990 file photo a youth clubs the burning body of a Zulu man beaten and burned to death as a suspected Inkatha faction member in Soweto, South Africa, Sept. (AP Photo/Greg Marinovich, File)
FILE – In this Sept. 15, 1990 file photo a youth clubs the burning body of a Zulu man beaten and burned to death as a suspected Inkatha faction member in Soweto, South Africa, Sept. (AP Photo/Greg Marinovich, File)

“I can’t wait to vote,” said 29-year-old David Maimola, speaking from a hospital bed where he is recovering from injuries sustained in a bomb blast Sunday.

“After what has happened to me … I want a new government.”

The election, set to conclude Thursday night, will select a national assembly and nine provincial assemblies. The ANC is expected to win about 60 percent of the vote. Second place should go to de Klerk’s National Party, which implemented apartheid to separate the races, then dismantled it under growing pressure at home and abroad.

FILE - In this Sunday, April 18, 1993 file photo, African National Congress President Nelson Mandela, right, views the body of slain activist Chris Hani as the body lies in state in a Soweto soccer stadium a day before his burial. (AP Photo/John Parkin, File)
FILE – In this Sunday, April 18, 1993 file photo, African National Congress President Nelson Mandela, right, views the body of slain activist Chris Hani as the body lies in state in a Soweto soccer stadium a day before his burial. (AP Photo/John Parkin, File)

The 75-year-old Mandela, who struggled all his life against apartheid and spent 27 years in prison, is expected to be sworn in as president of South Africa’s first democratic government on May 10. He will govern a deeply divided country, with unemployment and illiteracy higher than 50 percent among blacks.

The vote brings to a close an era in which 5 million whites dominated 35 million blacks, browns and Asians was coming to a close.

“It’s the end of an epoch,” said Adeline Barkhuizen, 66, who lives on a farm outside Pretoria. “It will be difficult for the Afrikaner people.”

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 1990, file photo, Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela give black power salutes as they enter Soccer City stadium in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison. (AP Photo/Udo Weitz, File)
FILE – In this Feb. 13, 1990, file photo, Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela give black power salutes as they enter Soccer City stadium in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison. (AP Photo/Udo Weitz, File)

Many whites said they shared the blacks’ joy. “I never thought I would see the day when I would wish I was a black person,” enthused one white caller to a talk-radio station.

Waits of four or more hours to vote were not uncommon. At Empilweni Hospital in Port Elizabeth, sick and elderly voters collapsed in the hot sun.

Some of the most poignant scenes were in remote areas such as Usuthu in Natal province, where hundreds of elderly and crippled voters took shelter under thorn trees as voting in the Zulu homeland got off to a chaotic start.

FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 2, 1990 file photo South African President F.W. de Klerk, announces the unconditional release of jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela, the unbanning of the ANC, PAC and South African Communist party and the lifting of the state of emergency in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Dana Le Roux-Argus)
FILE – In this Friday, Feb. 2, 1990 file photo South African President F.W. de Klerk, announces the unconditional release of jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela, the unbanning of the ANC, PAC and South African Communist party and the lifting of the state of emergency in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Dana Le Roux-Argus)

Many had hobbled through the hills on crutches. Some came in wheelbarrows pushed by relatives and others were dropped off by trucks and literally crawled into the line, eager to vote. They were disappointed to find ballots had not yet arrived.

Usuthu’s head teacher, Margaret Zungu, said elderly Zulu voters began gathering well before dawn.

“This is the first time they will vote. They’ve waited for this day. They’re not going to be unhappy to wait a little longer.”

FILE -- In this March 30, 1960 file photo a mass funeral takes place in Sharpeville, South Africa, for victims of the Sharpeville Massacre in which 69 people were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against government's apartheid policies and the arrest of their leaders. (AP Photo)
FILE — In this March 30, 1960 file photo a mass funeral takes place in Sharpeville, South Africa, for victims of the Sharpeville Massacre in which 69 people were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against government’s apartheid policies and the arrest of their leaders. (AP Photo)

Foreign observers were overwhelmed by the determination of the voters.

“The infirm are being carried into the booths,” said Margarete Delbet of France. “It’s a moving celebration of independence, rather than the act of voting.”

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