Freedom Day in South Africa is celebrated on 27 April every year, when the country commemorates its first democratic elections, which took place in 1994. Dr Iqbal Survé discusses his view of the critical issues still facing ‘Freedom for All’.
Freedom is not just a word; it is a feeling that should unite us all. As we celebrate Freedom Day in 2023, let us take a moment to reflect on our achievements of which there are many we can be proud of, as well as taking cognisance of the challenges that still lie ahead. In doing so, know this, that together, we can create a brighter, more equitable future for all.
Freedom Day is here and today, 27 April 2023, marks the 29th year of ‘freedom for all’ south Africans. For many of our youth today, who were born ‘free’, Freedom Day is something that they have grown up with and possibly now take for granted.
For many of us though, who were part of the apartheid struggle, freedom was still very much a concept, but it was one in which we were united to achieve, which we all did in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected President of the country.
How do we view ‘freedom’ almost three decades later? What has freedom meant to us?
Many years ago, I was discussing the first decade of freedom. We looked at freedom as a gift, one given to us by those who sacrificed their lives and sacrificed their families, so that we, today, can be free. That gift wrapped box called ‘freedom’ must be nurtured and looked after forever, because if we do not appreciate it or squander it, we will no longer have any freedom.
Every South African should wake up on the morning of Freedom Day on Thursday, 27th April and acknowledge that we are free today because of the sacrifices of those who have come before us.
Every South Africa should wake up on Freedom Day, leave the negatives behind, embrace the positives this has brought us all look for the opportunities we have been granted by those who came before us.
It was Nelson Mandela who said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Free to be – The most important freedom is the freedom to think and the right to think and to just be.
The apartheid system took this fundamental right of the majority of South Africans away. It is not something we can ever entertain again, yet in the freedom to be, we also need to be mindful of being respectful, tolerant, and aware of others’ differences.
When we think about freedom, we think about freedom in the context of being out of a confined space – a jail, a room – but in fact you do not have to have walls to be imprisoned. You can be a prisoner of greed, of your own mind, and of materialism.
But there are also such things such as positive freedoms and negative freedoms.
Positive vs Negative Freedom
Positive freedom for example is the importance of being free from poverty, which is negative. Unless our people are free from poverty, they cannot be free. Unless all our people have dignity, which is a positive aspect of freedom, they cannot be free.
Unless our people are free to have proper housing, sanitation and education and security for themselves and their families, they cannot be free.
Freedom is only real if everybody can exercise not just the right to think, the right to vote, but the right to have the freedom that comes with equality, social justice, transformation, and empowerment.
Freedom from negative things includes being free of fear such as comes with crime, the GBV culture of assaulting women and children, poverty, unemployment, and elements that have negatively tainted our foundation.
But, because we are now free, and can think for ourselves, and we have the right and freedom to vote, we can effect change so we can prevent those who would take our freedom away from us from doing so. We need to stop our freedom being taken away from us.
In the past, freedom was removed by imprisoning us, segregating us, by not allowing us to attend certain schools and universities and own certain businesses.
Today, our freedom is in danger of being lost or stripped from us again, this time, through an economic apartheid.
Yet we have the freedom to choose our leaders, and those who can take our country forward, to ensure that this great country of ours and its people, have our rightful place in the sun. Choose wisely, therefore.
Economic Revolution – Economic freedom does not exist in our country. When we look at the country’s economy, for example if we look at capital in terms of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), it is still predominantly untransformed. Black people own less than 5% of the JSE. Some even say it is only 1.5%. The institutions of capital also remain controlled, managed, and owned by the establishment that existed during the apartheid years.
Black people in this country are still not given the equal access or opportunities to capital allocation, business opportunities, partnerships.
Statistics show very clearly that our country has not economically transformed, which is sad, because if the majority of our people had the same access to advantage as the minority, it would stimulate an economic revolution for the entire country, which would benefit all.
Is there optimism about freedom in South Africa? – Optimism is a philosophy of hopefulness, but how can we be hopeful and upbeat when so many of our people cannot afford to buy a loaf of bread, look after their children, get basic healthcare.
This is the reality of freedom in South Africa today – the freedom to queue for services that may or may not be forthcoming! But this is not the kind of freedom we ever envisaged. It is a false freedom.
So many sectors in South Africa remain untransformed and with them, a lack of outright freedom. Think of the agricultural sector as well as the business landscape. And what of media freedom?
Media freedom is under attack because capital has taken control of all the major media houses in this country. In all instances, it is their funders that now determine the narrative that South Africans must listen to. That cannot be our freedom.
So where do we go from here?
It starts by us taking our ‘freedom’ as seriously as those who gifted it to us, by remembering what our rights actually are, and by no longer being passive bystanders unconsciously acquiescing to the demands on our freedom as our rights are ever so slowly being taken from us again.
To preserve our freedom and create the sort of free society we want and that was envisaged for us, we can take charge – not through violence or aggression, but through removing the blinkers that keep us tied to old systems, that can force us to see that any stage of load shedding is stopping us from full economic emancipation.
This day, this Freedom Day, we cast our votes and made the right choice, remember, you still have that right to freely make the right choice next time the opportunity arises… make it count.