In the spirit of Freedom Day commemoration which was on April 27, I would like to refer to another date which I consider the ancestor of this particular public holiday. Said date is June 26 1955 – the day the Freedom Charter was adopted by the Congress Alliance, which consisted of the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies.
The foundation of the Freedom Charter
Three-thousand members of the alliance were present in Kliptown, Johannesburg, on that landmark day. They turned out in their numbers to declare and adopt the manifesto of freedoms which they would pursue on behalf of the masses, as represented by the 50,000 people who contributed to the declaration. I make the connection between the two freedom-related events, lest we forget how far our country has come in its battle for liberty and equality.
By the time black South Africans took to the polls for the first time on April 27 1994, the charter had been an ANC platform for 39 years already and it became the midwife of South Africa's government of national unity. That government subsequently conceived the democratic Constitution of 1996. The big question in this lineage of freedom aspirations is: what has the Constitution in turn managed to birth?
What is the extent of freedom experienced so far?
A basic scorecard for assessing whether our 24-year-old democracy has in fact managed to deliver any of the freedoms enshrined in its 1955 manifesto is by itemising and then evaluating them. The collection of freedoms spelt out by the masses in 1955 include government for and by the people, equal human rights, shared wealth, shared land, work, houses, security, free education, peace and friendship. In terms of assessing the extent of freedom experienced by the average South African in the democratic era; one could take basic stock of their political, economic and social statuses.
The politics of freedom
Politically, we have had a majority party in government for 24 years now which, credit where it's due, has brought substantial stability and continuity. However, as the democracy is maturing, so are the people's views on what freedom means to them subjectively and they are becoming savvier about where they have the best prospects of getting it.
The country has experienced a wake-up call to the reality that a liberation party is not necessarily one equipped to be a governing party. The Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Front and other opposition parties have become bullish democracy watchdogs, as they advocate for service delivery to the masses.
Social justice is a potent sounding word that gives me a picture of Popeye-style muscles that are ready to deliver a punch that leaves the culprit "seeing-stars".
Riding an economic rollercoaster
The economic state of affairs for the majority of the population is frightening, for lack of a better word. It probably has the same fear factor as being on a rollercoaster from which you cannot dismount. The current unemployment rate of 26.7 percent is a statistic that does not reveal the full extent of the economic crisis we face. The formally unemployed are just one category.
Then there are the underemployed who are unable to scrape together a living wage. Furthermore are the employed who are being throttled by inflation, debt and threat of retrenchment. All this with Ministers of Finance being recalled at a presidential whim.
What is nevertheless encouraging is the forays made into economic transformation, affirmative action and black economic empowerment. There is increasing access to quality education for the masses, graduation into mainstream jobs which were previously the exclusive domain of whites and a growing middle class of black diamonds and a handful of superrich black individuals.
Evolving group dynamics
Social justice is a potent sounding word that gives me a picture of Popeye-style muscles that are ready to deliver a punch that leaves the culprit "seeing-stars". Realistically, there are times when justice prevails to great consolation for the people – like Vicki Momberg's "k-word" conviction which was a solid victory in the fight against racism. Other times disheartening disappointment such as with former president Jacob Zuma's litany of legal problems – the most distasteful being the rape accusation he somehow escaped, leaving gender activists appalled.
In addition to justice are the group dynamics and interpersonal relations of citizens. We have evidenced greater racial, gender and cultural integration, which as could be expected has caused us to trample of each other's' toes for lack of experience in how to interact with those different from us.
But with the social progress that has been enjoyed by multitudes of blacks has come the shadow of crime perpetrated by those who feel trapped in a poverty cycle where they do not have legitimate avenues to generate income. This crop of "have-not" criminals is a constant threat to the "haves", irrespective of race. The vulnerable among the population – women and children – are exposed daily to the anger fuelled abuse from the men in society, which amounts to a gender genocide that is yet to be curbed.
Let us take stock of the freedoms that 1994 afforded us and strive to attain, through justified means, those we are still lacking.
The hard and soft of freedom
The Freedom Charter combined tangible objectives together with the softer aspirations for comfort, peace and friendship. This does not make it any less of a political statement. Instead, it exposes the fundamental need that humanity craves – harmony.
This harmony relates to personal wellbeing; cohesive family relations; congruent social interactions and overall synchronicity. Having one element out of synch creates a weak link that stresses the other aspects and ultimately breaks down the whole structure.
Let us take stock of the freedoms that 1994 afforded us and strive to attain, through justified means, those we are still lacking. To quote the epilogue of the Freedom Charter, "Let all who love their people and their country now say, as we say here: 'These freedoms we will fight for side by side, throughout our lives, until we have won our liberty'".