10 May, 2012

Freedom Day: Looking Back. Looking Forward

by Hussein Solomon

On Friday, the 27th April South Africans celebrated Freedom Day. It is a day which needs celebration. On that day in 1994 whilst South Africans celebrated our unity in diversity and whilst we finally ended the system of apartheid, the Rwandan genocide began. On the basis of ethnic identification, a million innocent people were to lose their lives in Rwanda in 1994. South Africans from all walks of life, from different cultural, racial, religious and ideological persuasions chose a different path of the Hutu militias bringing death and destitution to their land. For this reason, we should all be proud.

We should also celebrate our heroes which made this day possible – some paying the ultimate sacrifice. I think here of Steve Biko and his Black Consciousness Movement who ignited the flame of freedom in a new generation of youth. I think of Ruth First and her towering intellect and her gentle ways. I think of the leadership of the Pan Africanist Congress paying the ultimate price in Sharpeville as they burnt their passes. I think of academics like David Webster and Rick Turner who spoke truth to power and whose lives were cut short as a result. I think of clerics like Archbishop Desmond Tutu who reminded South Africans of our common humanity, Rev Beyers Naude who suffered the scorn of his community whilst he served as their conscience and I think of Imam Haroon who lost his life in the struggle against the evil personified by apartheid. I think, too, of a feisty Helen Suzman being the sole voice of reason in a parliament representing the interests of a minority unaccustomed to reason or being held accountable. I think of young black children on the streets of Soweto being mowed down by a ruthless regime. I think of the young white men of the End Conscription Campaign prepared to go to jail rather than serve in apartheid’s killing machine. And I think of Nelson Mandela being released from prison after three decades and still willing to embrace all across barriers of race, class, political parties and ideologies and expressing a vision of an inclusive and just South Africa, a beacon of hope for all the Rwandas’.

Whilst we celebrate all these people and thousands more, we also have to accept that South Africa under the ANC has moved away from that vision articulated by Mandela. We have moved away from the vision of an inclusive South Africa as the country’s institutions represent the whims of an increasingly venal kleptocratic elite. As for the vision of a just South Africa, this too has been killed off by an increasingly rapacious ruling party looting the coffers of state. Justice too, is in retreat given the growing authoritarianism on the part of the ruling party.

In other words, the ANC has destroyed all the ideals of April 27th 1994. Indeed, our very freedom in 2012 is in jeopardy.

How do we honour those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom? We reclaim our freedom by kicking this party of corrupt autocrats out of power at the ballot box in the next election!

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