South Africa: Are we all free this Freedom Day?

Date: April 20, 2011
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To those who were not part of the struggle for freedom, you might not understand the painful joy that filled South Africans on 27 April 1994. It was like a butterfly setting free from its cocoon, struggling to be free so that it may experience the radiance of the sun on its colourful back. It was not easy but it was worth it. South Africans pushed till the day they flapped their wings and felt the element of freedom, a South Africa for all.

Freedom Day, 27 April, is a day when all South Africans are reminded of the pain, struggle and anguish that occurred as a result of colonialism and oppression. It is a day when we were set free from the historical ties of domination by the “white man”.

Almost 20 million South Africans queued to take part in the country’s first free and democratic elections on that day in 1994. It was the first non-racial election to take place in South Africa, finally setting its citizens free from colonialism.

On Freedom Day we commemorate the heroes and heroines who shed blood and lost lives making South Africa a country for all, where we all live in harmony irrespective of our race, nationality, sex, creed or sexual orientation. Freedom Day is meant to remind us that South Africans are “one people with one destiny.”

But is this true?

Are we as South Africans all free when people still live each day in fear of being violated, where citizens live in poverty and without jobs, where women fight to be heard and represented and where gays and lesbians are raped and murdered?

Is this a South Africa we voted for?

We have come a long way in a short time but freedom should mean much more. Freedom should mean emancipation from poverty, unemployment, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Freedom should mean a better life for all.

Abahlali baseMjondolo, an intellectual movement formed in 2005 in Durban, reminds us that “there are many South Africans who feel like the freedom they are meant to have is a cruel joke which attempts to gloss over the true social concerns of citizens.

“This day actually reminds us how un-free we are. All South Africans may be officially free to vote in government elections, but why vote for a system that ignores your human need?”

The Gini index ranks global inequalities of wealth and has consistently ranked South Africa as one of the most unequal nations on the planet. The gap between rich and poor is not shrinking.

And through all the successes that South Africa has witnessed and continues to celebrate, gender inequality remains a major problem. Women and men do not receive the same treatment and acknowledgement in the corporate world and in the societies they belong to. There is a gap that still needs to be filled in order for women to say “we are free from oppression and discrimination”.

Traditional African cultures once clearly stipulated different roles of men and women in society. Boys and girls grew up having specific roles that were assigned to a particular sex: boys hunting and girls cooking. From an early age females were victims of injustice and girls grew up knowing that they had to work hard in order to find husbands who will care for them. By today’s standards, this culture was unfair to women.

In many ways South Africa is one of the few African countries really pushing for gender equality. The government has found it important to promote a range of policies and legislation that stand to benefit women. Because of this, South Africa is at number three in the world in terms of gender equality in national government.

At the same time, South Africa is also at the top of the list of countries where violence against women is the most extreme and common. Recent Gender Links research in Gauteng province found that three quarters of men have admitted to perpetrating violence against women in their lifetime – many of them have raped women more than once.

When can we celebrate a day where we will be freed from this violence and celebrate equal rights for all? How will true liberty ever reach our soil?

My father used to recite a poem by Charles Osgood that was a bit silly but also thought-provoking.

“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”

Change begins with you.

It is time we stop putting responsibility on others and instead begin trying to make a difference within our societies. There are some inspiring examples of this. Women and men are fighting for change today, all across the Middle East.

Our own example may be the most inspiring.

There is no easy road to freedom, Nelson Mandela said in his speech. As we celebrate South Africa’s 17th year of freedom let’s keep in mind that some of us are still fighting a battle to be free. Until that battle is won, none of us have truly seen freedom.

Hunadi Ralebipi is the Gender Links Communications intern. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.


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