South Africa’s democracy, at thirteen, is now a teenager. I still remember clearly the heady, euphoric moments that surrounded the election and subsequent inauguration of Madiba.
Even I, only five-years-old then, could sense the overarching significance, the sheer momentousness of the day, as I peered into the voting hall on that Wednesday in April 1994.
Back then everything seemed so much clearer cut. The baddies, evil and racist, had been vanquished, and in were rushing the saints, the knights in shining armour, fighters for freedom.
I would have long conversations with my domestic worker about how wonderful the ANC were; we were both avid fans. There was a definite righteousness about their cause.
Now, well into the post-apartheid era, I have become somewhat disenchanted with the liberation movement. I have come to question their motives for fighting the struggle.
Were they fighting for freedom? Were they fighting for human rights? I am not convinced that they were. Indeed, in the light of the government’s appalling and shameful stance on the murderous Zimbabwean regime, I can only agree with the Financial Mail editor, Barney Mthombothi, who feels that human rights were a mere tactic adopted to ensure support for the ANC’s attempt at gaining power.
To paraphrase the Oxford definition, freedom is the power or right to do what you want. It is saying, acting and thinking what you like.
There is freedom in South Africa but it is under attack.
Rampant crime and the all-pervasive fear that understandably stems from it is one such example. Crime robs us of our rights.
Aids is another form of assault on freedom, perpetuated by years of denialism which until very recently was a cornerstone of government policy. Already, thousands of lives have been lost unnecessarily. At least 800 every single day, in fact.
Poverty, unemployment and dismal education standards prevent many South Africans from enjoying the fruits of freedom.
Government is also eroding freedom. Because of the party list (as opposed to proportional representation) system, too many ANC members are toeing the party line.
The ANC is displaying an apparent determination to censor the press under the guise of cracking down on child pornography. The public broadcaster brazenly spouts its propaganda. Corruption and patronage – from travel scams to funding fronts – go unchecked. Our hallowed chapter 9 institutions have become toothless and wantonly ineffective.
Our freedom is vulnerable. South Africans cannot take it for granted; we must safeguard it zealously – otherwise it shall be lost. It is civil society’s responsibility to hold government to account or face the consequences.