Every year Freedom Day approaches with the same whirlwind of emotions. My immediate association will probably always be happy faces, the rainbow of our flag and pride at belonging to this country. But this sensation is fleeting; soon to be replaced with bitterness, confusion and scepticism. Because, you see, despite spending most of my Born Free life believing in the Great South African Miracle, there are five questions that I just can’t shake off.
Was Mandela Really a Sell-Out?
Between poor service delivery and the truth about Winnie, the easy answer is “yes”. But it’s not that simple. Mandela was an icon but he was also one person up against powerful neoliberal forces. The extent may be debatable but no-one can say he didn’t experience the cruelty of Apartheid.
As with most of these questions, the answer doesn’t really matter. Just asking them is already a blow to the illusion of perfect Freedom.
What Does it Mean When You Can Vote but the Things You Vote For Aren’t Implemented?
Last year, I interviewed a handful of people on whether they would be voting or not. One of them was adamant that she would not – she didn’t see a party that catered to her concerns. This is a theme all over the world. The tirade that “nothing ever changes”.
I believe in the power of voting, especially as a tool for social order and establishing sovereignty. But is it a farce when the policies you vote for aren’t implemented?
Is Our Government Really Even In Charge?
“Neoliberalism,” is how I explain the rationale behind this question. Should we perhaps rather be voting for CEOs and directors of global institutions? Is democracy a front for the autocratic tendencies of neoliberalism?
I want to believe in our government, particularly as an institution. But when the president makes less than the CEOs, it’s no wonder that corruption can overshadow service delivery.
Can Freedom Only Be Established on the Bones of the Old Regime?
History is littered with the bones of the Old Regime. Democratic South Africa is one of the exceptions. What do you do when you “spare” the Old Regime and it returns, again and again, to undermine the New?
See FW de Klerk’s blase ignorance of Apartheid being a crime against humanity. See the comments beneath news articles on the death of Constand Viljoen. These instances don’t seem to be living out the Great South African Miracle.
Does Democracy Outweigh the Burden of Intergenerational Pain?
The story of Mandela, the Struggle, Liberation and Freedom Day are all told in my grandmother’s voice. She told it me in anecdotes, repeated from childhood into the present. They’re nothing extraordinary – no mysteriously missing relatives or k-word incidents. They describe daily life — the beach, the aftercare, the telephone calls — and how Apartheid cast a shadow on all of it — “Whites only”, “Hier kom die laws” and “The Doctor is here”.
The anecdotes paint a life of interruptions and anxiety. They’re told by a beloved woman in her eighties, living on a state pension, who was allowed to leave school at 13. Sometimes she laughs, sometimes she bits her lip and condemns the “horrible” Boere. They’re both responses to a pain which I feel, too.
What do you do with this pain in a democracy trying to move forward? Can it ever be separated from the pride of belonging and the joy of freedom? This is the only question I have an answer to: I don’t think so. It might be easier but I don’t think this pain should ever be forgotten. It makes our freedom, however feeble, precious and something worth building on.
The Meaning of this Pain and Passion
It may seem like I’ve written myself back into believing the Great South African Miracle. I’ve written before that passion is what I feel for South Africa. It’s certainly not clear-cut but the love I have for this country compels me to make meaning of the pain, even if I can’t forget it.