...Freedom Day?

The common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide

Looking for our overview of Freedom Day events in Cape Town?

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What does it really mean to be free? Freedom should mean choice over your life and rights that are respected and protected. In the context of South Africa it also means the political freedom to vote. Yes, we can all do what we want but are our rights respected equally? And are we protected?

Cape Town will celebrate Freedom Day on 27 April. It marks the first democratic election of 1994, freedom from colonialism and the courageous men and women who fought to liberate the oppressed. Have we come any closer to Mandela’s vision of freedom for all? Perhaps on Freedom Day it is time to readjust our focus and fight again for those ideals that so many South Africans were willing to die for.

“Some people see it as another holiday, others celebrate freedom from impositions and for others, it’s a political day,” says Stephen Atkinson, Owner, Long Street Backpackers.

David Mclennan from Select Books, added: “This is the one holiday that South Africa takes seriously because of its recent creation. Even if you were born after 1994, you will appreciate this day and why it is an important holiday.”

Cape Town’s long walk to freedom

Cape Town’s road to freedom was a struggle, dating back to the persecution of the Khoi San, in 1652. Apartheid denied black Capetonians access to privileged suburbs, education and jobs. Blacks even had to carry a pass to allow them to stay in the city centre and Nelson Mandela, amongst others, was imprisoned on Robben Island not too far away.

“People are free to go anywhere they want and can work in most industries now,” says Matt Kula, One World Travel Centre.

Despite the horrors of that era, Apartheid also highlighted a liberal tradition that spoke up against the abuse of human rights and enabled a proud rainbow nation to step into the future: those who campaigned against removal from the voters’ role, the 1960’s Anti-Pass demonstrators and the freedom leaders who braved imprisonment.

“One can bear the unbearable if one can keep one’s spirits strong. Strong convictions are the secrets of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty.”

These are the words of a man revered as a vital force in the fight for human rights. Nelson Mandela stood for a humanity that encompassed all and withstood 27 years of imprisonment. He initiated talks with the Apartheid regime, which lead to peaceful negotiations in South Africa. One mans remarkable determination and courage has become a national vision.

Free at last?

It has been 16 years since Apartheid, but freedom is far from absolute. The legacy of Apartheid is still evident in Cape Town’s poverty, racial inequalities and socio-economic disparities.

“In some parts people have moved on, but in others people are behind,” explained Sam, an Entrepreneur, “Everybody is free in Cape Town, but people cannot stand on certain corners for fear of crime.”

One person who is all too familiar with crime is Michael Lawson, who vacated his property after suffering 3 threats to his life and 6 break-ins.  He believes that crime is so frequent that South Africans have become desensitized to its effects.

“There is more murder in South Africa than in Iraq and we are not even at war,” Michael commented, “and how many countries have road signs that say: ‘Don’t stop! Hijacking!’?”

Or, are we abusing our freedom?

ANC Youth Leader President, Julius Malema, recently sang a traditional ANC struggle song, which contains explicitly violent lyrics that implies killing white farmers. This coincides with the murder of AWB leader and Afrikaner, Eugene Terre Blanche, on his farm. Freedom of speech is one thing, but freedom to live and breathe is another. Is the kind of freedom we have in South Africa leading to chaos? Perhaps freedom can only really exist within boundaries.

“3182 farmers that have been murdered to date and the South African government still think that they are viewed as democratic,” Michael added.

This is a time to heal the old wounds and build a new South Africa

Freedom Day is valuable - it is the condition by which we pledge to achieve a better life for all. It’s about looking outside ourselves and finding a balance where we can all coexist in peace, instead of being selfish. If we are selfish with our freedom, we are no better than the Apartheid government.

In order to sustain Mandela’s vision, it is our government’s responsibility to address the challenges of housing, health, education, crime, unemployment and drugs. As individuals we need to learn to respect and be grateful for the freedom that others were willing to die for. We need to fight and stand up for our rights every day.

“Inevitably we are free,” explains David, “We have safeguards that we didn’t have before: things like the constitutional court and financial watchdogs, which have aided development. Technically and legally, we have a constitution which allows for complete freedom.”

Stephen added: “People have a free vote; they can take a job and live wherever they want. In a physical sense, it allows people to interact on an even playing field, with no government imposed boundaries. If you are talking to someone, it is as an equal.”

Although recent events may paint an unstable picture of South Africa, let’s not forget how far we have come. Significant numbers of black people are now in the workplace and ANC politicians hold positions of power. However, with great power comes great responsibility and we must not forget the essence of Mandela’s dream.

Nationally, The South African Government plans to upgrade 500 000 shacks by the year 2014, to create affordable housing for all. Locally, the city of Cape Town has developed a five year plan, to combat the problems of unemployment, housing and crime. But is freedom merely about having a job, a house and safety?

“Freedom means that you should be able to express yourself and not be worried about how people look at what you do and who you are,” explains Matt.

By Lisa Nevitt

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